Review | ‘Rebel Dykes’ reminds us we stand on the shoulders of giants

Rebel Dykes | Dir: Sian Williams & Harri Shanahan | ★ ★ ★ ★  ½ 

Talking with the fourteen year old in my life, she told me that her best friend was a ‘gay boy’ and two of her female friends were a couple. When I was that age, homosexuality was illegal and it was rumoured that two of my classmates from the boarding house were expelled for being lesbians.

This documentary reminds us that we stand on the shoulders of giants who paved the way for following generations. Not seen as important enough to contribute to historical records, Williams and Shanahan have sought some of these giants out, interviewing them and bringing their personal videos and photographs to the big screen, using animation where footage wasn’t available.

After having experienced the freedoms of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, many of these women were squatting in South London in the 1980s. Gay bashing was a national sport and Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 banned everything deemed as ‘promoting’ homosexuality in UK institutions. These young working class punks emerged from underground nightclubs and S&M Clubs, bonded against laws to silence their community.

Speaking of their first-hand experiences forty years ago the women recall when the personal was very political but they were the rebels who took the plunge. They came into conflict with feminist groups, such as the Women’s Liberation Group, and even other lesbians, such as Lesbians Against Sadomasochism, for their sex-positive stance and trans inclusivity.

These women took courageous steps to defeat Section 28 and also encourage AIDS research. They brought other sections of the fractured queer community together to fight for rights that today’s teenagers take for granted. This timely documentary ends with an in memorandum to the women who have since died but whose legacy remains.

Rebel Dykes screens as part of the Revelation Film Festival that runs from 1 – 11 July at Luna, Leederville. Rebel Dykes will screen 6.45pm on Sunday 4 July and 8.15pm on Saturday 10 July.

Lezly Herbert

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