Film review: ‘Cured’ reminds us the necessity of LGBTQ+ activism

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“Cured” (2020) is an American documentary directed by Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon.

By Joshua Sokol, Living Arts Editor

After four years of the Trump administration rolling back LGBTQ+ protections, particularly those protecting the trans community, documentaries like Cured, which will be available through PBS later this year, remind us of the important role activism plays in sustaining freedoms won in the not-so-distant past. Civil liberties weren’t granted by quiet compliance—they were the direct result of disruption.

The Department of Visual and Media Arts, as a part of their Bright Lights Film Series, hosted a screening of Cured, directed by Patrick Sammon and Bennett, on Nov 5 Singer through the ArtsEmerson website. The film curated stories of people within the LGBTQ+ community who fought for justice, confronting homophobia within governmental structures that seemingly towered over them.

Premiering this year at the virtual LGBTQ+ movie festival Outfest, the film’s creators sought to reckon with the history of the gay liberation movement and its relationship to the American Psychiatric Association, or APA. The central narrative of the film is the story of how LGBTQ+ activists came together in the 1970s and 80s to remove homosexuality from the APA’s lists of mental illnesses and disorders.

It would seem this archaic categorization of homosexuality was a part of a long-forgotten past, outside of the contemporary conscious. But in reality, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—the guidebook widely used by mental health professionals—did not remove homosexuaity from its listing until 1973. However it was then folded into various psychological “disturbances” and “disorders” for the next decade.

A large part of this activism was a direct result of the Stonewall riots, a movement in 1969 initiated largely by BIPOC trans women, as well as the Gay Liberation Front. Both were instrumental in the ongoing process of dismantling structures of homophobia from every pocket of society. Cured involves a variety of perspectives, from doctors to activists, regarding the struggles in this particular challenge, one that was deeply ingrained in the mental healthcare system of the United States.

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Rev. Magora Kennedy was one of the first people on the scene of the Stonewall riots, wearing her white minister’s collar. Her role in the film, in addition to being a bohemian-spirited delight, was to recount her experience of appearing on the talk show, The David Susskind Show, in 1971. She vehemently challenged the medical community, asking on live television, “Does it feel good to say we are sick?”

But this film, instead of just telling a story about a struggle, keeps a record that could easily be forgotten. Without this retelling, this archiving and this account, younger gay generations could be at a loss history without preservation and a comprehension of struggle fleeting. Without gay history, there is no gay future. The psychiatric world previously looked at gay people as ill, as corrupt, and as something needing to be fixed. The gay community owes itself to not forget that, and to continue to hold those in power accountable.

The most pivotal moment of the film is the story of Dr. John Freyer, a gay psychiatrist from Philadelphia. In 1972, Dr. Freyer attended the APA Convention in Dallas, Texas, adorned in an oversized tuxedo, wearing a Richard Nixon mask, and using a voice-altering microphone. During this convention, he went by the name “Dr. H. Anonymous” and gave a detailed account of his struggles within his own industry, being a demonized person within the work that he loved.

“I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist,” Dr. Freyer said to a room full of his colleagues.

The LGBTQ+ community, with all of its triumphs and struggles, should never forget a moment like this. A man and a respected healthcare professional needed to hide behind a mask in order to make a case for his existence. He needed to alter his voice so that it would not be held against him by the public. 

While there have been strides made, there is still work to be done and history to be remembered.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly alleged that the Bright Lights Film Series is organized by ArtsEmerson. The Bright Lights Film Series is organized within the Department of Visual Media Arts, not ArtsEmerson. This information is now corrected. The Beacon regrets this error.