One of the more curious elements of the genuinely uplifting
documentary Gay Chorus Deep South
comes during the credits. You’ll have to wait a bit for it, long after every
member of the over three-hundred-person strong chorus is named, to see the name
‘Airbnb Productions’ come up on the screen, but once it’s there, you can’t help
but tilt your head to the side like a curious dog who has just been the victim
of a fake out ball throw.
David Charles Rodrigues’ documentary follows the San
Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as they embark on a journey through the American
‘Deep South’ as an act of protest against anti-LGBTIQ+ legislation, and a way
of showing support for the LGBTIQ+ communities in the five states the troupe
visits – Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, North and South Carolina.
Airbnb Productions helped produce Gay Chorus Deep South alongside MTV Productions, and while there is
no branding for Airbnb within the film itself, once you know that it was
coproduced by the company, you can’t help but notice the way the film presents
the divide within these southern states. I am loathe to make this review so focused
on the exploration of the presence of Airbnb within such a powerful film – hand
on my heart, I cried more than a couple of times here, it’s good stuff – but
this discussion does lean into the corporatisation of the LGBTIQ+ community.
After all, Airbnb kicked off Airbnb Productions with the
purest of intentions.
The troupe do visit Selma, Alabama, and follow the same path
that the famed Selma March followed. Here, the LGBTIQ+ legacy is Martin Luther
King Jr.’s legacy, and Rodrigues does a solid job of reminding viewers of the
link of this occurring. A momentary shot of a police officer shaking the hand of
a chorus member could feel trite and noxious, but instead it plays like a hint
of a divide being mended. A wrong being righted.
When paired with a four-person strong protest that has a
conflicted young religious lesbian convincing herself that she has chosen a
life of loving men, and only men, the picture of the titular ‘deep south’ is
one that is simmering with immense dislike for the LGBTIQ+ community, rather
than an outward hatred for the community. I say this not to diminish the hate
crimes that the community is subjected to, nor the horrendous and archaic
legislation that these districts are putting in place, but to try and explain
how the documentary presents such difficulties.
The toxic and harmful legislation is explored and discussed
in the film, with those who will be directly affected by them having a chance
to talk about how their lives will be impacted. But, quite oddly, the harm that
this legislation will bring to this community feels muted. We live in a
heightened world of angst driven politics, day in, day out, and with so many
themes to explore within the film, it becomes a difficult line to straddle, and
it’s one that the film doesn’t entirely manage successfully.
Early on, one gay man from the Deep South voices ire at the
way that the San Francisco chapter strolls in to their region like there
weren’t already activists working there. I wish that this aspect of the
different facets of the LGBTIQ+ community was explored, especially given how
those outside the community can often see the broad spectrum of the alphabet as
being routine and homogenous.
A gay man in San Francisco is different than a gay man in
Mississippi who is different from a gay man in Iran, China, Malaysia, or
Australia. These stories and lives are not interchangeable, even though they
all come from the same umbrella. While Gay
Chorus Deep South does a solid job of exploring a wealth of the aspects of
the difficulties the community faces, it’s also burdened by the simply
overwhelming mass of complexities, issues, stories and moments, that it can’t
truly, deeply explore more than it already does.
Additionally, while I was left moved by the compassion and
empathy that drips from each frame, I was left wishing that more of the history
of the chorus was explored.
At the offset, and somewhat offhandedly,
the history is brushed over in a nonchalant manner. For a group like the San
Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, they have been working to bring a wider
understanding and acceptance of the LGBTIQ+ community to the masses, and if
their Wikipedia page is anything to go
by, they have a fascinating, deep history that deserves exploration. The
stories that could be teased just from this group are immense, and I’m grateful
for the ones we got, I just wish that there was more. For all the emotion
within Gay Chorus Deep South, it is a
film that is surprisingly easy to shake off. Looking back, I will be able to
recall fractured moments, but I was not left changed or transformed, and given
that that is the core objective of the group, and clearly the vibe that the
film is aiming for, it is a mild disappointment.
This is not to diminish what is explored, especially given
how impactful these moments are, carrying an immense weight that will certainly
resonate for viewers who are less well-versed with LGBTIQ+ documentaries. As
someone who consumes a lot of LGBTIQ+ media, with a keen interest in
documentaries that explore this kind of prejudice-damning crusade, I can
recognise an overlap with a lot of other similar documentaries. Gay Chorus Deep South is exceptionally
made, with immersive editing that welcomes your heart, and beckons your soul to
be moved. A late scene where the choir sings in a packed room, with the chorus
joined by their family members and loved ones, will leave you positively bawling
your eyes out.
The religious aspect of the South is explored intimately,
with the chorus wishing to perform in many churches, to try break down the
barriers that ill-read interpretations of their religious texts helped conjure.
Prejudice appears consistently from the mouths of those who preach equality,
unity, hope, and support, and it’s made absolutely clear from these proudly
religious voices that equality is equality for a select few, unity within the
church, and certainly not for them,
and due to these exclusions, all chances for hope and support are extinguished.
An interview with an alt-right radio station appears to
carry a surface level magnanimity, but that becomes difficult to reconcile and
accept when the host is wearing a MAGA hat, and his co-host’s body language
says clearly how outwardly against the notion of acceptance he is. I wish the
film allowed us to sit with the fruitless result of this endeavour, just to
realise even more that the decades long struggle for equality and acceptance is
still a long way from over.
awfully cruel slice of criticism, and a partially misguided one at that, part
of the problem with films like this is that they can sometimes feel a little
too safe; a little too sanitary. Which is a terrible thing to say about a film
that shows many men and women baring their souls to strangers. But, again, you
see enough LGBTIQ+ films, and you get an understanding of when you’re being
Which drags me back to the
corporatisation of the LGBTIQ+ community. Call me cynical – I am – but that
Airbnb label really left a sour note in my mind. I should have had a head full
of powerful acapella songs and exceptional harmonies (sidenote: the one that
has the men singing about the people who misuse their religion to amplify hate
is a particularly acerbic song that I won’t forget any time soon), but instead,
I felt like a five-too-many
Woodside Pride parade floats just went past me.
It’s financially beneficial for
corporations to outwardly support the LGBTIQ+ community, but when it becomes
branded content or products, and without genuine change within the corporation
itself, it’s hard not to recognise that they’re just piggybacking off a
marginalised community, rather than actually supporting them in the way that a
figurehead corporation theoretically could support them. For every rainbow
themed reusable water bottle or bandana, one can’t help but ask how much of a
portable advertisement the rainbow flag has become. Rebecca Nicholson wrote
about this exact thing in The Guardian,
well worth the read.
As Rebecca mentions, it’s easier to support an organisation
that is outwardly inclusive. Sure, we get that small endorphin boost when we
can be seen drinking from a rainbow coloured soda bottle – the companies
outward support becomes our outward
support, it’s what they call: synergy
– and we’re also amplifying awareness of the LGBTIQ+ community. But, as Gay Chorus Deep South reminds, this is
an ongoing struggle that has been raging for decades. Which is why the peak-capitalism
of Skittles completely misinterpreting what it means to support Pride month
with their white Skittles
range outlines the commercialisation of the queer community.
Additionally, where do the ethics of organisations stand?
Again, with Skittles, it’s clearly with their self-interest, and that’s it. So,
we can’t help but ask the question of whether a church is no different than a
corporation? (The logical through line of this question is: is the church no
different than Airbnb?) Are political and societal lines being drawn by the
optics of who supports what? There’s a legion of people who continue to avoid Hobby
Lobby and Chick-fil-A because of their vocal stance against women’s
rights, gay rights, and a general toxic version of Christianity. But at least the
vocal homophobia from Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A made it obvious where they
stood, and allowed consumers to act accordingly.
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