I was invited to a press screening of United in Anger: A History of ACT UP last week.
I highly recommend it. The 90 minute movie is a beautiful summary of the organization in great detail and so tangible. The movie is full of archival footage of radical, inventive, creative and well-organized protest actions by the coalition of folks who were in the thick of the AIDS crisis. The story is told in the words of the folks who were doing it, meeting every Monday at the LGBT Center, making media and strategizing. The press information from the movie says the archival footage “puts the audience on the ground” with protestors and that is incredibly accurate.
The film progresses through a dozen or so of the most infamous of the ACT UP actions and it was incredibly moving. I found myself chanting along by the end and cried during an action where ashes were spread on the White House lawn. It was so moving to see how folks were using their intense grief to also channel that into activism.
I also enjoyed that it addressed what it was like to be in the movement. I think it’s nice to know what folks did but it’s great to hear the dirt. There was a lot of personal impetus to be part of the movement–everyone’s friends were dying. And also, I liked that folks were honest about how they didn’t go cruising in bars, they joined this activist movement so they could cruise and also do something important with their time. I don’t know, it was an important thread of realness that definitely made this documentary feel like a homegrown history rather than a documentary from an outsiders’ perspective.
It is also so important for us to absorb the strategy. So often in queer generations we’re reinventing the wheel. ACT UP already did so much of that strategizing and organizing! We can learn so much from it.
United in Anger is touring film festivals. It opens at Quad Cinemas in NYC on July 6 for a week. Check out their screening schedule!