AIDS Activist Shorts and the Emergence of Queer Cinema
October 23, 2009
Last Friday night, I attended a screening of nearly twenty-year old AIDS activist videos (the scenes of my youth; the research topic of my juvenalia) which were part of the ACT UP NY: Activism, Art and the AIDS Crisis Show at the Harvard Art Museum. My friends Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard’s ACT UP Oral History Project took up teems of monitors in the main gallery space, unrolling uncountable hours of testimony to community, counter-cultural outrage, loss, and art-making. It was overwhelming. An impressive configuration for their massive media archive.
At the screening, I was pleased to see the humor, joy, and sexual delight in the videos on display, as well as the way that we spoke in every genre (documentary, music video, art film, advertisement, cable access) we already knew (and some we invented) because we were compelled to be heard.
Mostly, I was moved by the role of feminism in our work and movement. How we brought self-health, community-based, and pro-sex theories and organizing to gay men, and how they shared with us their cultural capital, camp, and joy in sexual defiance. It was so clear from the work on display that AIDS activist video led to queer cinema in large part because, through the movement, women and gay men stretched our lives, causes, and love to demand new ways of living and working together and fresh modes of representation complex enough to hold our radical unions. For example, I was pleased to see my old friend, Zoe Leonard there (she was representing Fierce Pussy). We worked on The Watermelon Woman together literally making the move from AIDS to queer cinema, as did Maria Magenti, Rose Troche, Alisa Lebow, Ellen Spiro, Carol Leigh and so many others.