Hating Peter Tatchell

Peter Tatchell in Hating Peter Tatchell. Courtesy Netflix

MA 15+, 91 minutes

4 Stars




Review by © Jane Freebury

Peter who? Just in case you aren’t sure you have the right person in mind, the lively montage that opens this documentary is a powerful reminder of the lifetime of protest that Peter Tatchell represents. Storming pulpits, attempting citizen arrests of dubious foreign leaders visiting London, travelling alone to former Communist countries to protest the persecution of gays.

The list of LGBTQ campaigns that he has been supporting during 53 years of activism is astounding, and as a result this doco is bursting at the seams. Even so, it doesn’t seem possible that all the protests this famous Australian expat, human rights activist is known for, and loathed for by some, could possibly be included.

After setting the scene, the filmmaker, Australian/British writer-director, Christopher Amos, starts the narrative in Melbourne where Tatchell was born and raised in a strictly observant Pentecostal Christian household. Life at home was difficult for him but he was flourishing at school.

It was the sixties and he was already politicised. He became head prefect, despite or because of his left-wing radical views, elected by the school’s grassroots democratic system.

He felt strongly about the need to be proud as a gay man and was an organiser of the first Gay Pride march

By paying close attention to the reports of the Black civil rights protest movement in the US, he began adapting their methods to his own purposes. Naturally, he was active in the Vietnam anti-war movement of the time and to avoid conscription he left Australia in 1971, arriving in London at the age of 19, just as the Gay Liberation movement was taking off.

Tatchell felt strongly about the need to be proud as a gay man and was one of the organisers of the first Gay Pride march in Britain in 1972. He was wasting no time in his adopted home.

From one stepping stone to the next, Tatchell demonstrated by himself or with supporters, in England and abroad over the following decades, acquiring a name for himself as a deeply committed and courageous gay activist and human rights campaigner.

To review and discuss this remarkable journey with Tatchell, now 69, the filmmakers have mustered broadcaster Stephen Fry and veteran actor Ian McKellen. They are of course notable gay celebrities in their own right.

Peter Tatchell in Hating Peter Tatchell. Courtesy Netflix

Excerpts from the interview between McKellen and Tatchell are scattered throughout. From time to time the camera rests on McKellen, wise and benevolent like his alter-ego Gandalf, as he studies this uniquely energetic and brave campaigner who has dedicated his life to worthy causes. There is no shortage there. There’s plenty that needs to be set right in the world.

Fry describes him as a performance artist, McKellen wonders if Tatchell has been foolhardy or brave, or perhaps both. In a brief snippet from Elton John, an executive producer, he says the entire gay community is indebted to Tatchell.

Opinion is not all positive. Some very testy views are expressed, mainly archival, from when Tatchell was a thorn in the side of many. A fellow activist gently observes that his confrontational tactics did ‘not always’ help.

He has quite a record in civil disobedience, and there can be no doubting his courage

George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, makes a surprising appearance. It’s all the more astonishing for the fact that Tatchell once claimed to have publicly outed a group of Anglican bishops whose views on homosexuality were hypocritical.

Even fellow activists weren’t happy with this, questioning his confrontational stance and his preparedness to do anything ‘to create a headline’. As McKellen observed quietly, he wasn’t popular with everyone, but as Tatchell countered, none of the bishops said anything against gays afterwards.

Another episode that made Tatchell enemies was his stand as a British Labour Party candidate for the seat of Bermondsey during the 1980s. The level of homophobia it elicited is now incredible.

Some touching footage records a reunion with Tatchell’s elderly mother, Mardi, on a visit to Australia. Although her Christian views cannot be reconciled with her son’s life choices, the two appear close and affectionate.

Director Amos has deftly included many aspects of Tatchell’s life while managing to retain a coherent narrative, but I still wonder where the fierce drive comes from. The picture would have been more complete with more probing in this area.

Peter Tatchell has quite a record in civil disobedience, and there can be no doubting his courage. John Pilger, Julian Assange, Geoffrey Robertson, Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell… There must be something in the water.

First published in the Canberra Times on 26 September 2021.  Jane’s reviews are also published by Rotten Tomatoes

Six Degrees of Separation, revisited

Streaming on Stan.

By © Jane Freebury

Six Degrees of Separation, a film from 1993, had a catchy idea and title to match that has had the distinction of becoming part of our lexicon. Other movies come to mind, like Groundhog Day and Bucket List, but there aren’t that many.

A name for a list of must-see travel destinations before you kick the bucket has caught on, as has the idea of being caught in a time loop of repetitive routine.  And there’s another one that’s trending, from the title of George Cukor’s 1944 thriller, ‘gaslight’ has become a shorthand for an insidious type of psychological abuse.

Six Degrees of Separation, currently streaming on Stan, proposed the idea that people are only six connections away from each other. In the age of a corona virus pandemic, the idea that we are interconnected to a degree we had never realised doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.

It wasn’t a new idea when screenwriter John Guare put it forward in his play of the same name, on which this film is based. There have been media reports since that the thesis is verifiable and correct, and that we are connected, by 5 to 7 informal acquaintances, to every other person in the world.

a satiric take on the notion that people who live in the same country can still be worlds apart

Six Degrees of Separation, directed by expat Australian director Fred Schepisi, is sharp, funny, and acutely observed comedy of manners. Its theatrical roots are very apparent, but it is well worth revisiting not just because of the intriguing take up of its title, but for its satiric take on the notion that people who live in the same country can still be worlds apart.

Upper East Siders, Flan (Donald Sutherland) and Ouisa (Stockard Channing) Kittredge are an affluent couple who have reached the pinnacle of success. With their adult children away at college, their life is a constant round of art deals and dinner parties.

They live on Fifth, of course, in a high-rise apartment crowded with artworks that reflect their taste and their cultural capital, but they are liberal, decent folk, wanting to do the right thing.

Geoffrey (Ian McKellen) and Ouisa (Stockard Channing)

So, they are seriously challenged when an attractive young stranger with a knife wound to the stomach arrives at their front door, requesting refuge. He was mugged, he says, then saw the name Kittredge downstairs and realised they were parents of friends of his at college.

His name is Paul, he says, and he is the son of actor Sidney Poitier. Flan and Ouisa and their guest, Geoffrey (Ian McKellen), are sceptical but intrigued by their uninvited guest, who is so confident, articulate and, well, charismatic. When he steps up to prepare their dinner, he shows he’s no slouch in the culinary and sommelier arts either.

The role of Paul, a wily and plausible imposter, is a gift for any young actor. It was the first major film role for Will Smith, and some would say that despite the star he has become in years since, this early role is still his best.

After Paul brings a hustler back to the apartment, Flan and Ouisa chuck him out, then regale their friends with anecdotes about him at their dinner parties. The film is structured around flashback as friends and acquaintances respond with similar stories about how Paul infiltrated their lives too, took up offers of free bed and board, and stole opportunistically.

Paul has been working his way through the Upper East Side. The Kittredges can count themselves lucky that he left the Cezanne and the Kandinsky behind.

Curiously, there is a running joke about an upcoming movie version of Cats. If only they knew in 1993 how funny that turned out to be in 2019.

Ultimately, the idea of six degrees of separation is more device than underlying theme. It’s an idea that Ouisa muses about, fascinated to think that ‘a US president could be connected with a gondolier in Venice’. Our take-up of the expression seems to indicate that we like the idea too.

not in the cast, but Kevin Bacon is also connected

After Six Degrees of Separation came out in the 1990s, some Pennsylvania students invented a parlour game they called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Bacon didn’t mind. He ran with it, founding a charitable trust based on the notion that what you do in an apartment in Manhattan will inevitably affect people in Bangladesh, because we are all connected.

Are we ever.

First published in the Canberra Times on 12 April 2020, and broadcast by Artsound FM 92.7 

*Featured image: Who am I? Will Smith as Paul