Released: 11th August
Seen: 28th September
Throughout queer history, there is a long list of people who, in some form, have pushed forward the cause of queer acceptance. From major events like Marsha P Johnson throwing the first brick at Stonewall, to the founding of Act Up by Larry Kramer, to Harvey Milk becoming one of the first openly gay people elected to public office, there are many figures who in some way or another have done something to push the cause of LGBT people forward.
One name that should be up near the top of that list is Peter Tatchell, a proud polemic figure who has put his body and life on the line to fight for gay liberation and Hating Peter Tatchell is absolutely essential viewing for anyone even slightly interested in the power and the cost of protest.
Hating Peter Tatchell tells the life story of… well, Peter Tatchell. Starting from humble beginnings in Melbourne Australia, we follow Peter as he makes his way over to England and begins his life’s work. That work largely consisting of very public protests against public figures such as Robert Mugabe and the Catholic Church for their treatment/abuse of homosexuals.
As we learn more and more about the assorted protests that Peter has taken part in (culminating in his visit to Russia to protest the Russian government’s treatment of LGBT people and their allowing a gay genocide in Chechnya), we learn just what those protests did for the larger movement and the physical and emotional toll they’ve taken on Peter Tatchell himself.
Using a stunning amount of archive footage, compared to a limited number of interviews, the film lays out a simple chronological timeline of every major protest that Peter Tatchell took part in. That’s where most of the film’s focus is, showing footage of Peter diving onto church pulpits or trying to arrest Zimbabwean leaders. It does bring up more of Peter’s personal life when needed for context, particularly around the abuse he went through as a child, but for the most part, this film isn’t about Peter as a person but Peter as a symbol for queer liberation.
While Hating Peter Tatchell is mostly positive about Peter’s actions, portraying his actions (quite rightly) as absolutely essential for the furtherance of a worthy cause, there are a few moments where even the film seems to question some of his tactics. This becomes most prominent when they talk about how Peter would out gay priests, something that even the most radical gay people might feel is a step too far. Even when questioning his methods, the film gives Peter Tatchell plenty of chances to explain his actions. You might not agree with them, but you will absolutely understand them.
For the bulk of Hating Peter Tatchell it’s your standard historical documentary with a fascinating subject… what is kind of distracting about it is that Peter is being interviewed by Ian McKellen who appears to only be here so the film can use his name in the credits. He barely says anything and the film keeps randomly cutting to him just nodding as he listens to Peter talking. If this was a talk show hosted by Ian McKellen (which is a thing I want) then this would be fine but it’s not, it’s a documentary about Peter Tatchell and every time we throw in a few seconds of Gandalf just nodding in silence. It’s incredibly distracting.
Hating Peter Tatchell is nothing short of essential viewing for anyone even remotely interested in queer history. Chances are good that if you’re a queer person who has seen your rights improve in some way over the past few years that somewhere along the way Peter was there getting beaten up in order to help make that happen. The film might ask why hating Peter Tatchell was such a popular thing for a long period of time but by the end, it’s impossible not to absolutely love Peter Tatchell for everything he has done to try and make the world just a little better.