BFI Southbank has revealed the details for their forthcoming BE GAY, DO CRIME film season, running from 1 to 31 August 2023.
Inspired by an anarchist catchphrase, this season of provocative and playful films explores the relationship between queerness and crime, and is curated by BFI London Film Festival and BFI Flare programmer Grace Barber-Plentie.
BE GAY, DO CRIME is a phrase that can seem intimidating to the uninitiated. While commonly known as an anarchist slogan to be shouted at protests or spray-painted on buildings, these four words have in recent years become associated with the works of cult directors such as John Waters and Gregg Araki, who posit crime and anarchy as a form of resistance for queer characters. Rather than condoning crime, this season seeks to explore it with films playing including BOUND (Lily and Lana Wachowski, 1996), CHOCOLATE BABIES (Stephen Winter, 1996), DOG DAY AFTERNOON (Sidney Lumet, 1975), and FEMALE TROUBLE (John Waters, 1974). Why is crime so often queer people’s only choice for survival? Should we criminalise or celebrate the Robin Hoods of queer cinema? Divided into the themes of Love, Money and Anarchy, BE GAY DO CRIME celebrates queer films and directors you know, a few you don’t, and re-contextualises some that you may not have thought of as queer at all.
Grace Barber-Plentie, BFI London Film Festival and BFI Flare programmer and curator of BE GAY, DO CRIME, said: “What a pleasure it has been to programme this weird and wonderful season. When watching Gregg Araki’s THE LIVING END years ago, I was struck by the idea that this was a classic ‘Be Gay, Do Crime’ film, and from there, the other titles included began to flood in – it’s fascinating how many films link together crime and queerness. I was less interested in the idea of villainy when I programmed this season and more with crime as a way of survival, or a way to throw a hearty middle finger up to a world that stops queer people from thriving. I hope that BE GAY, DO CRIME will entertain audiences with a heavy dose of camp and queer joy, but also get us thinking, questioning the system and coming together to change how we think about queer criminality.”
The season begins with LOVE, MONEY AND ANARCHY: BE GAY, DO CRIME IN CONTEXT, an illustrated talk on the criminally good films included in the season by programmer Grace Barber-Plentie on 3 August followed by a panel discussion with writers So Mayer, Yara Rodrigues Fowler, and film programmer Rico Johnson-Sinclair to discuss queer capers, homosexual heists, lawless lesbians and much more.
Love and crime go hand in hand in these depictions of queer couples and friends embracing and escaping from criminal lifestyles.
Based on the real-life bank robbery carried out by John Wojtowicz to pay for his partner’s gender-affirming surgery, DOG DAY AFTERNOON (Sidney Lumet, 1975) is celebrated for Lumet’s gritty direction and a bravura performance from Al Pacino. But the film is also a pioneering, complex (and perhaps a little dated) depiction of a queer relationship and perfectly illustrates the link between queerness and crime.
Susan Lambert’s rarely screened ON GUARD (Susan Lambert, 1984) is a heist thriller like no other, in which a group of women attempt to sabotage Utero, a reproductive engineering company. Timelier than ever, this ‘Girls Own Adventure’ focuses on women’s – especially queer women’s – reproductive rights. It plays alongside SUPERDYKE (Barbara Hammer, 1975), a short introduction to a troop of shield-bearing Amazons taking over!
In BOUND (Lily Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, 1996), the debut film by the Wachowskis, gangster’s moll Violet and ex-con Corky team up in business and pleasure to steal $2million of mafia money and start anew. Fresh, leather-clad and very sexy (with intimacy scenes coordinated by lesbian sex educator Susie Bright), BOUND is a defining film of the neo-noir genre and of lesbian cinema. A screening on 1 August will include a pre-recorded intro by film critic Xuanlin Tham.
Unlike the other films in this season, MY BROTHER THE DEVIL (Sally El Hosaini, 2012) offers a question: be gay, or do crime? This is the choice facing Rash in this arresting debut. Should he – can he – escape from a life of organised crime? And how does he stop his younger brother from following in his footsteps?
Some have it, some want it, and some are reduced to desperate measures to get it in these films…
Rio’s crime underworld is ruled with an iron fist by THE DEVIL QUEEN (Antonio Carlos da Fontoura, 1974). But when a plan to frame newcomer Bereco for a drug deal goes awry, the Queen must fight to maintain her empire. Inspired by the life of João Francisco dos Santos, aka Madame Satã, Fontoura’s film re-imagines the crime epic with a Black queer queenpin at its centre.
Lo-fi gem BY HOOK OR BY CROOK (Silas Howard and Harry Dodge, 2001) follows hustler Shy, who no sooner arrives in San Francisco than he encounters the charming but troubled Valentine, who is searching for his birth mother. Teaming up to commit a series of petty crimes, the two forge an unlikely friendship outside of the law and gender binaries. BFI Flare programmer Zorian Clayton will introduce a screening on 5 August.
MADAME SATÃ (Karim Aïnouz, 2002) is a different take on the life of João Francisco dos Santos. In Karim Aïnouz’s gritty and glittery debut, João – played by a mesmerising Ramos – is a hustler fending for his chosen family and dreaming of becoming a drag queen. But João has a reckless streak, one that constantly gets him into trouble with the law.
Described by director Jean-Pierre Bekolo as ‘the best African sci-fi political satire with homoerotic overtones you’ve ever seen’, THE BLOODETTES (Jean-Pierre Bekolo, 2005) is a riotously inventive romp through dystopian Cameroon. After accidentally murdering a powerful politician during sex, best friends Majolie and Chouchou try to rise through society using their wits, wiles and the ancient feminine rites of Mevoungou.
Be Gay, Do Crime in its most anarchic form – sometimes in order to fight back against the establishment, you must take things into your own hands…
Coupling cyberpunk aesthetics with ideas as relevant now as they were in 1994, FRESH KILL (Shu Lea Cheang, 1994) is a daring and experimental vision of how ‘crime’ can be used as activism. In this dystopian vision, a lesbian couple enter the world of hacktivism to expose a sinister corporation endangering their lives and that of their five-year-old daughter.
Balancing laugh-out-loud shady one-liners with honest and confrontational conversations about sexuality and race, CHOCOLATE BABIES (Stephen Winter, 1996) is a powerful example of activist cinema. In this exuberant depiction of AIDS activists in New York, an HIV-positive brother and sister, two drag queens and a young Asian-American newcomer fight back against politicians with queer terrorism. Season programmer Grace Barber-Plentie will introduce a screening on 3 August.
From its tongue-in-cheek opening proclamation that describes itself as ‘an irresponsible movie’ to its nihilistic yet deeply moving ending, THE LIVING END (Gregg Araki, 1992) is pure Gregg Araki – boisterous, uncompromising filmmaking from a pioneer of New Queer Cinema. It follows a queer odd couple who, after they’re both diagnosed with HIV and following an act of violence, take to the road with the motto ‘f**k everything’.
This season would be nothing without the King of Filth. But when so many of his films fit the brief, which to choose? Ultimately, it had to be FEMALE TROUBLE (John Waters, 1974), the good-girl-gone-bad tale of cha-cha-heel-loving Dawn Davenport, one of the many iconic collaborations between Waters and Divine. BFI lead programmer Justin Johnson will introduce a screening on 10 August. Now, who’s ready to die for art?
BE GAY, DO CRIME is at BFI Southbank from 1 – 31 August 2023. Tickets are on sale now