During the documentary Out In The Open, director Matthew Smith talks about the fact that he doesn’t like the type of aggressive LGBT activism where you go and shout at someone in the hope of affecting change. This then is his friendlier, more heartfelt approach to changing hearts and minds, as well as saying it’s okay to be gay.
Covering a fair amount of ground, from overcoming bullying to gay marriage, Out In The Open is essentially a primer to being gay, complete with a voiceover addressing common ideas about ‘homosexuals’ and why they’re wrong. The film is full of interviews with both normal people and celebrities – diver Greg Louganis, actors Eric & Eliza Roberts, TV host Carson Kressley, singer Josh Strickland – talking about their experiences of everything gay from coming out (both as a gay person and finding out a relative is gay) to how everything does indeed get better for gay people after the tough time many have in school.
Threaded through all this is the relationship between the director and his boyfriend Solly Hemus, who are used as a bit of a case study for how normal gay people are, and how their hopes, loves and desires only differ from straight people’s in the surface details. They also both talk about the difficulties of growing up gay and the pressure to remain in the closet, but are keen to say that it’s better out than in.
Most films and documentaries on gay topics are made with a gay audience in mind – even those with an activist bent tend to have a preaching-to-the-converted feel about them – however Out In The Open is a conscious attempt to make something for those who aren’t already big fans of everything homo. Indeed, many gay people who’ve already come out and are steeped in gay culture will find the whole thing a little obvious. This isn’t really for them though, it’s for people who might not know any gay people and have only heard about the stereotypes and negative attitudes.
It’s also for young people coming to terms with their own sexuality – with the documentary keen to tell them that no matter what they’ve heard, it’s all okay. As the documentary notes,young people, both gay and straight, often don’t know any gay people and so only have media representations and popular perception to go on, which often ignore the normality and simplicity at the heart of being gay, instead concentrating on imagined negatives. Therefore while many older gay people may simply go, ‘Well, of course!’ when they watch this, it’s undoubtedly valuable to have a documentary that goes through the basics for those without as much life experience. If you’re constantly being called ‘fag’ at school and don’t know any gay people, it would actually be quite nice to see a documentary where gays aren’t freaks, but normal people who happen to love others of the same sex.
Out In The Open would also be good for those who are knee-jerk anti-gay, many of whom have never really thought about it and who tend to treat everything homosexual in abstract terms, rather than being about the lives of real people. However getting people like that to watch a documentary like this is always going to be an uphill struggle, no matter how eye-opening it might be for them. Hopefully it will get to at-risk LGBT youth though, who will respond to its message.
Admittedly there are times when Out In The Open feels like it’s trying to fit a bit too much in and it briefly loses track of itself as a result. There are also moments when Matt Smith could have done with taking a slightly bigger step back from his subject – especially when it comes to his own relationship with Solly, which sometimes feels like it’s going to overpower the overall message – but it’s largely a well-made, interesting and heartfelt film.
Overall Verdict: Rather like the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, Out In The Open is keen for people to know that whether you’re questioning your own sexuality or if you’re just not sure what to think of everything homosexual – it’s okay to be gay and while people may treat it as a big deal, at its heart it’s simply about love.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac