Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bones of Contention

Bones of Contention, dir. Andrea Weiss, 2017 USA, 75 min., in English and Spanish with English subtitles 👏
Saturday, June 17, 4:00pm, Victoria Theatre: U.S. premiere

LGBTQ liberation in Spain, post-Franco
Like many Americans, my knowledge of the Franco era of Spanish history doesn’t go far beyond Chevy Chase announcing on SNL’s Weekend Update, “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.” In reality, though, Spain spent four long decades under the boot heel of a fascist dictator — and I don’t mean “fascist” in the glib vernacular sense of “awful person,” but literally an avowed fascist, brought to power with help from Hitler and Mussolini. The Catholic Church eagerly joined forces with Franco, particularly in his brutal subjugation of women and homosexuals. During the Spanish Civil War, the Franquistas rounded up and executed thousands of republicans, but even long after the war, anyone suspected of democratic sympathies had reason to fear, as did gays, transvestites, and, to a lesser extent, lesbians. (Lesbians were less actively persecuted, but only because their very existence was denied, an insidious form of repression in itself.) After World War II, the United States supported the Franco dictatorship, overlooking his ruthless repression of his own people because he was fiercely anti-communist and offered the use of important air and naval bases to the U.S. military.

Federico García Lorca was a poet, playwright, and social activist who rose to prominence during the Second Spanish Republic, the brief flowering of democracy between dictators in the 1930’s. Lorca became an outspoken socialist, and was a well known member of the artistic avant-garde, along with Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. Although he kept up a façade in public, his homosexuality was a poorly kept secret. His assassination in 1936 came to be seen as a symbol of the brutality of the Franco faction; at the site of a mass grave in his native province of Granada, a memorial proclaims “Todos eran Lorca” — they were all Lorca.

Bones of Contention concerns itself with the quest to locate and identify the remains of the thousands of people (including Lorca) murdered by the fascists, but it provides the context of Lorca’s life and more broadly the context of Spanish society during and after the Civil War, and the sporadic efforts since Franco’s death to grapple with his legacy. An amnesty law released the anti-Franco resistance from prison, but also blocked any effort to bring the fascists to justice. Franco’s anti-LGBTQ policies continued for some years after his death, although Spain is now widely viewed as the most progressive country in Europe for LGBTQ rights. Interviews with contemporary scholars and survivors of the Franco era are interspersed with historical footage and quotes from Lorca’s works to weave a compelling documentary that sheds light on this dark chapter of human history. Highly recommended.

(👂Special note to hearing-impaired audiences: many of the interviews are presented in Spanish with English subtitles, but some of the interviews and most of the narration are in English without subtitles.)

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