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Mar 23 2016

HBO's LGBT History: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia (2014)

Manuelis working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at Andrew Rannells's Elijah (Girls).Ogling his latest sexcapade with Corey Stoll,who plays a famous actor on the show,we talked about the way the Broadway actor has made himself an essential part of Lena Dunham's show,giving the vapid narcissism of his character the necessary depth to avoid falling into cliché.This week,we revisit a 2014 HBO documentary about the dangerous anti-gay vigilante groups that have recently proliferated in Russia.The title comes directly from one gay man featured in the film.A victim of a raid on an LGBT gathering that left him blind in one eye,he puts it all too bluntly:

"Hunting season is open…and we are the hunted."

Released the same year as the Sochi Olympics—which in themselves brought closer scrutiny to what many around the world saw as a state-sanctioned anti-gay stance—Hunted: The War Against Gays In Russiapaints a portrait of the homophobic culture that has spurred civilian vigilante groups to actively "hunt"gay men.Groups like Parents of Russia boycott and disrupt pro-gay propaganda (like film festivals and demonstrations),which the government has all but made illegal.[More...]

They've accomplished this with the sneaky dishonest conflation of paedophilia as an outgrowth and a symptom of homosexuality.Thus,through this lie,harmful to children.

Others,like Occupy Paedophilia lure gay men to a secluded spot only to humiliate them,and beat them—all the while catching it on camera to broadcast the (usually closeted) man's sexuality for all to see.In one of the many intentionally cringe-worthy moments of the film,we see the leader of this group taunt a gay man with jeers and veiled threats that,should he not collaborate in filming a self-incriminating interview,she won't know what the rowdy and bloodthirsty men around her might do with him.It's uncomfortable to watch not least because it reproduces the very humiliating videos the doc sets out to condemn (with blurred faces,as narrator Matt Bomer tells us,"to protect their privacy").This,of course,gets at the heart of ethical questions about documenting this type of behavior,especially whendocumentingis precisely the weapon of choice by groups like Occupy Paedophilia.Posting their videos online is a way to out gay men and assert their own dominion over the privacy of its victims.

In an interview posted on the HBO site,director Ben Steele addresses this very question,

"Where are the lines of filmmaking?Where is the line you need to be managing while you're filming in difficult situations?I think we very firmly stay on one side of the line because we in no way encouraged or aided or supported what was happening—we were documenting it.But at the same time,one of the things that I felt was quite important while I was in the room is that I was offering the victim some security that with me being there,it was less likely that the Occupy Pedophilia people would turn extremely violent."

Indeed,in other videos that we're shown,we see a gay man threatened with a gun to admit he's gay,another having piss poured over him in a bathtub by a throng of jeering men,and yet another being punched in the (blurred) face.The line,then,in Steele's film is a lot more tenuous than you'd first think."Raising awareness"about these crimes,which is allHuntedcan do,admitting full well that there's little the Russian government is inclined to do to curb these already very public attacks,becomes a tricky proposition considering it requires the very means of (re)production as that which they're raising awareness for.

That the film never tackles these questions head-on makes it ultimately more like a journalistic report rather than a full-fledged documentary.In its narrow focus it offers a compelling barrage of evidence but there's an almost willful attempt at engaging with the issue's larger political context,except for a brief interview with a straight ally at the end who suggests gay people are being scapegoated by a government all too happy to misdirect Russians' anger at their current socioeconomic prospects.Ultimately we're left with an airless platitude,"The climate of hate that exists here towards gay people is all-pervasive."

Further research show thatHuntedwas indeed a news report: before it was repackaged for the U.S.market by HBO asHunted: The War Against Gays In Russia,Ben Steele's 48 minute look at Russia's anti-gay vigilantes began as a Channel 4 report via itsDispatchesteam,headed by reporter Liz MacKean.And yes,instead of getting MacKean's narration (which you can listen to in aYouTube copy of "Hunted"),we got Bomer's "serious actor"voice.Because Americans would rather listen to a gay actor than a seasoned female reporter,I guess?In any case,it makes me curious to watch MacKean's follow-up "Hunted: Gay and Afraid,"which ties American Christian Rights groups to anti-gay laws cropping up abroad (John Oliver,if you're curious,tackled similar ground in hissegment on Uganda).

Fun Awards Fact:While the HBO version ofHuntedgarnered no awards for the U.S.network,the Channel 4 version netted MacKean the Journalist of the Year award at the 2014 U.K.Stonewall Awards while the show itself picked up the Best Documentary on Current Affairs award from the Grierson Awards,which celebrate the best in U.K.documentaries.

Next Week:We finally get to 2015,which means we'll be talking about a film that's already been amply covered by TFE:Bessie.Thus,rather than wax poetic again about Queen Latifah and Dee Rees,I figured we'd take the time to talk about racial representation (or lack thereof) in this ongoing HBO column.(Spoiler alert: sadly,we won't have much to talk about).

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Reader Comments (2)

Yes,I remember this showing on Channel 4,when pretty much every gay man in the UK seemed to be tuning in.Interesting that it was presented so differently for US audiences.

March 23,2016 | Unregistered Commenterben1283

I figured we'd take the time to talk about racial representation (or lack thereof) in this ongoing HBO column.(Spoiler alert: sadly,we won't have much to talk about).

Hopefully you'll address appropriation by gay whites.Who like white straights take what they want for the taking.

March 24,2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

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