Coming Out Under Fire

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Award-winning filmmaker and author Arthur Dong’s 1994 Coming Out Under Fire is the first of three expertly and efficiently crafted documentaries about homosexual repression and persecution which are now considered by many as his “Roots of Homophobia” trilogy. Dong’s 1997 Sundance Award-winning Licensed to Kill takes a harrowing look at seven men convicted of murdering homosexual victims. His 2002 film Family Fundamentals follows three conservative Christian families grappling with their convictions when a family member comes out of the closet. But it is this earlier, broader-scoped documentary about homosexuals in the military during World War II that is the filmmaker’s cornerstone representation of the systemic and administrative subjugation of queer communities. With the current political climate and national polarization, these three groundbreaking documentaries have never been more suitable for rediscovery.

Based on the landmark book by Allan Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire fuses captivating interviews with nine gay women and men with archival images and documentation, as well as the 1993 Congressional debates around gays in the military. The political birth of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in this era serves as a prescient backdrop to the protagonists’ heartfelt and resilient stories in the face of systemic and administrative subjugation. The film’s powerful and poignant message was celebrated widely, and the film went on to win top film festival awards at Sundance, Outfest, Berlin, Chicago, and San Francisco to name a few. —Todd Wiener (Arthur Dong, USA, 1994, 71 min.)

New 4K restoration by IndieCollect and UCLA Film & Television Archive

Preceded by:

Choosing Children

In 1984, Choosing Children was one of the first documentaries to challenge homophobic and sexist attitudes about lesbian parenting. This was Debra Chasnoff (1957-2017) and Kim Klausner’s first venture into documentary filmmaking. The project was inspired by questions that the filmmakers, who were also life partners at the time and would eventually have two sons together, were asking about the social and legal landscape for being a lesbian parent.

The pair ran ads in gay and feminist newspapers determined to find a broad selection of lesbians across race, ethnicity and reproductive circumstance who had decided to have children since coming out. The film profiles six different families, all unique in different ways and each connected by a lesbian parent. Some women chose to use a sperm donor; one partnered with a gay man to conceive and co-parent; and a few chose the “old fashioned” way of becoming pregnant. Some families are structured in the traditional two-parent partnership, while others have come together with multiple women to group-parent a child.

Chasnoff and Klausner pay close attention to the legal landscape of lesbian parenting: the discriminatory laws that refused to recognize same-sex parents who were not biologically related to their children, and the often equally prejudiced policies governing artificial insemination that rejected lesbian clients based on their sexual orientation. In this way, the documentary serves as a “how to” guide for parents to protect their reproductive rights and help them understand how to make the choices that are best for themselves and their families. One mother even offers some sage advice on the best container for a “do-it-yourself” semen sample: marinated artichoke heart jars are highly recommended. —Maya Montañez Smukler (Debra Chasnoff, Kim Klausner, Margaret Lazarus, USA, 1984, 45 min.)

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive

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