Stephen Fry has collaborated with film-maker Fergus O’Brien to make a two-part documentary Out There. In it, Fry reflects just how much, and how little, things have changed in his lifetime for gay people around the world.
Martin and I watched the first part last night. Yes, we know that we are incredibly lucky to be able to live where we do, but to see the reality of the extent of homophobia elsewhere, much of it State-sponsored, is very depressing. Uganda featured prominently in last-night’s programme. Fry was shown participating in a Ugandan radio phone-in programme with Pastor Solomon Male, who seems obsessed with homosexual sex to a quite unhealthy degree. Fry also had an interview with the Ugandan State Minister for Integrity and Ethics, who amply demonstrated a complete absence of both of these qualities. Fry found the latter interview in particular quite stressful, in part I suspect because the Minister at one point was shouting that he would arrest Fry.
But never underestimate the smugness of TV reviewers. Rupert Hawksley, in the Telegraph, wrote that:
As a homosexual man himself, it was entirely understandable that Fry took the poisonous opinions he encountered in Uganda and Los Angeles as personal attacks. Nonetheless, I was surprised at how quickly he allowed himself to be drawn into a slanging match, his gravitas deserting him minutes into a debate with Ugandan pastor Solomon Male. It was all much too shouty and felt like the opportunity for instructive discussion had been lost. Later, in an invective-filled session with the Ugandan State Minister for Integrity and Ethics, Fry resorted to childish taunts: “Homosexuality is fantastic. You should try it, it’s really good fun.” This, surely, was not the best way to counter deep-rooted prejudice.
Easy for you to say Mr. Hawksley, but then I doubt that you’ve been much at the receiving end of institutionalised homophobia. If I were in Fry’s place, I’d probably have lost my temper much sooner with the odious human being that is the Ugandan Minister. “Instructive discussion” with people such as Male and the minister is an oxymoron, as I know from experience.
The second part of the documentary will be shown tonight, in which Fry visits Russia, and gets to meet Deputy Milanov of St. Petersburg. Somehow, I think Mr. Hawksley will once again have to suffer a sense of disappointment that there is no “instructive discussion”. As Stephen Fry writes:
I have visited Russia, stood up to the political deputy who introduced the first of these laws, in his city of St Petersburg. I looked into the face of the man and, on camera, tried to reason with him, counter him, make him understand what he was doing. All I saw reflected back at me was what Hannah Arendt called, so memorably, “the banality of evil.” A stupid man, but like so many tyrants, one with an instinct of how to exploit a disaffected people by finding scapegoats. Putin may not be quite as oafish and stupid as Deputy Milonov but his instincts are the same.
The struggle continues.