Absolutely inspiring. The gay bar, as an institution, has always been more than just a place to socialize and get drunk. It has been a community center, a place of fellowship, of information, of safety, and yes, even a place to socialize and get drunk. The gay bar was where the LGBTQIA+ community could meet in relative safety, and without it, there would have been no Pride movement. Ostensibly this documentary is about the struggle to create two different Pride events. But I feel it’s really about trying to find one’s place in a community.
Southern Pride centers principally on one bar. Just Us run by Lynn Koval. The only gay bar in rural Biloxi, Mississippi. We first meet her during one of the seemingly endless fundraisers they are throwing. Lynn is frantically making cheeseburgers. We are then introduced to the extended family of the organization — each one taken in by Lynn. Given jobs, given support, helped and nurtured in a safe space where they could be themselves. But, their insular community is shaken by a series of murders of trans women. It is in this climate of fear that they have decided to reach out to the larger community with a Pride festival.
“…follows several smaller stories that make up the broader tapestry of gay life in the rural south…”
Episodic in nature, Southern Pride follows several smaller stories that make up the broader tapestry of gay life in the rural south. Starting with a bit of their history and the logistical nightmare of staging a large event, we transition a few miles away to Hattiesburg and Club Xclusive. Owner Shawn Perryon has her own place that caters to a mostly black clientele, and she sees herself as trying to cater to a minority within a minority. She talks briefly about trying to join Koval’s Pride but, after some racial tension occurs during the Black Spring Break, she decides to run her own event called Unapologetic Black Gay Pride.
A minor complaint of mine is we don’t hear much from Perryon or her group for most of the documentary. It does seem odd to set up her story but then focus almost exclusively on the group from Just Us.
“…more than a glimpse into a minority community, it is a testament to what we can accomplish together…”
Touching briefly on the erosion of our rights and the increase in violence against us since 2016, Southern Pride uses a gentle hand in its exploration on the necessity of not only Pride events but also preserving the institution of the gay bar. Never one to hit you over the head with a point, director Malcolm Ingram merely allows his subjects to tell their stories and hopes the natural human empathy of the viewer will do the rest. The people in his documentary aren’t superhuman survivors, not civil rights gladiators, but just people. Flawed, prone to bad judgment and worse behavior. He never allows himself to deify them or plunge into pity porn. Instead, we are taken along with them in what, at times, feels like an impossible task.
With its underlying message of hope and survival, this should be required viewing for young members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Southern Pride is more than a glimpse into a minority community. It is a testament to what we can accomplish together.
Southern Pride (2019) Directed by Malcolm Ingram.
10 out of 10