Starring: Damon Herriman, Katie Box, Xavier Samuel, Jessica De Gouw
Director: Jeffrey Walker
It wasn’t great to be LGBT in Australia in the 1970s. While Europe and the USA were a decade into their liberation, the Aussies were still unable to get their government to sit up and notice, despite the best efforts of activists. Riot is the story of how they finally managed to force it to the public’s attention.
Lance (Herriman) lives in a LGBT Commune where Free Love is the status quo. Their group of activists might share a common issue, but they bicker over what the real problem is. With each faction trying to push their own agenda, they won’t listen when Lance insists that what they must tackle first is the police, whose policy of discrimination and oppression won’t allow them to protest in the first place. But taking on the police is too terrifying a prospect for a group of people with much to lose.
Riot is a film that hammers home the message that there must be martyrs for a cause. Marg (Box) and her partner, Robyn (De Gouw) lose her children because of her sexuality and they become willing to lose everything because they have nothing else to lose. It takes Lance’s own partner (Samuel) years to come round to the fight, because he knows he will lose his job as a doctor if he commits fully to their agenda. As the film refers to Pride, it underlines in thick black marker that forcing LGBT visibility was the only way that society was going to change. The dominos that started on the other side of the world were a long way off reaching down under.
Like most films about a political movement, this is about the personal stories within the wider faction. The problem this film has is that you never really get a feel for just how big the group is, feeling instead like it’s Lance and Marg taking on the entire establishment with a few bickering disciples. And as you follow them through numerous episodes of homophobia, you feel like this must be building toward some sort of grand pay-off at the end, but it never really gets there. Yes, they do eventually take on the police, but that titular “riot” we were promised was really just a peaceful sit-in, which only succeeds in getting the heart-rate up to a brisk walk.
As LGBT political movies go, this is considerably better than Stonewall – although that’s not exactly hard – but certainly isn’t a Milk or a 120 BPM.
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