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.

3 Responses to “AIDS Activist Shorts and the Emergence of Queer Cinema”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Alex, I have never seen three posts on feminism in a row in this blog. I hope your entries on feminism, strong female artists/pastors/figures and queer movement politics will continue (I enjoyed these last few posts, especially the more subjectively poetic ekphrasis about the bus/theatre, and I appreciated the two videos in this post). I hope that the politics of your youth will not only be remembered by attending special events, but also continue directly in your own blogging about the culture. I read a post in which you wrote that it made you feel less comfortable to blog about feminism/queer political matters than to critique popular formats, technology, etc.–the latter allows you to relate for the first time with “regular” people, as the YouTube format is the primary focus (to paraphrase). So I was glad to see that you were recently defying the chauvinist atmosphere that is apparently alive and well in the blogosphere, as one commenter had posted on that entry some pages previously. Yay, please keep it up!

  2. MP:me Says:

    I am feeling less concerned whether people “like” me here, I suppose.

  3. Sarah Says:

    “They were fated to habituate stories organized around either their successful romance and marriage, or their punishment for crimes (of hyper sexuality or other forms of aggression).”


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