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Campaign Of Hate: Russia And Gay Propaganda

by Kyle Thomas Smith
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Tuesday Sep 16, 2014
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Whatever award is out there for courage in LGBTQIA filmmaking, Michael Lucas should win it hands down.

Not long after Putin began his current term as president, Lucas, a gay porn mogul in New York, looked across from safer shores and saw the writing on the Kremlin's walls. Putin had begun using the media as a vehicle for disseminating all the homophobia necessary to garner popular support for his "gay propaganda" law. It was a strategy as old as time: Take a vulnerable minority, make them out to be as scary as possible, and ensure your tenure by consolidating your base in opposition to them. This has led to an unprecedented spike in gay/trans-bashings in Putin's stomping ground, some of which have gone viral on YouTube, appalling Western viewers in ways sure to make Putin's bare chest swell with pride. Throw in support from the Russian Orthodox Church, and the masses were bound to see Putin as a gun-toting, God-fearing, Gomorrah-abhorring savior.

As this anti-gay pogrom revved up, Lucas didn't just play ostrich in America and go on blithely cranking out adult films. Instead, he headed right back to his homeland to make "Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda", a documentary film about the human cost of Putin's nascent war on gays. It came as no surprise to anyone paying attention that, in June 2013, Putin's measure would be unanimously accepted by State Duma and signed into law. From that point forward, any display of LGBT pride or suggestion of equality would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Lucas had only a short window of time to find people willing to speak about their experiences under the current regime, and their stories are heartrending. In addition, Lucas does an estimable job of keeping his temper when interviewing Vitaly Milonov, one of the law's chief architects, as well as when he turns his mic over to people on the street who have swallowed the Kremlin's media narratives whole.

Just because time is of the essence doesn't mean you should release a film before it's fully edited.

In a February 2014 interview with The Huffington Post, Lucas stated, "The most important thing is that as many people have a chance to see ["Campaign of Hate"] soon... I don't need the awards."

For all of his bravery, however, it's a good thing Lucas doesn't feel the need for awards because the documentary itself is amateurish at best. "Campaign of Hate" features illuminating commentary from the foremost authorities on the gay-rights crisis in Russia, like Masha Gessen, Anton Krasovsky and Thor Halvorssen Mendoza, but does not provide captioning for their names or professions (at this writing, there are few end credits listed either). Speaking of captioning, subtitles are rife with risible spelling errors, and are sometimes assigned to the wrong people (the audience might scratch its heads when, at one point, a straight ally suddenly tells us that he came out to his mother at 23; that is, until they see that that line actually belonged to the guy in the next sequence). Also, why is there no mention of Pussy Riot and its headline activism on this issue, or of American evangelicals' role in propagating hatred for LGBTs in Russia and Africa?

There was no time to lose in making a documentary like this -- and, by all accounts, things are about to get a whole lot worse. But just because time is of the essence doesn't mean you should release a film before it's fully edited.

Kyle Thomas Smith is author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn with his husband and two cats.

This article is part of our "Cinema Diverse! Palm Springs 2014" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list»

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