'Cured' Film Review | BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Film Festival 2021
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
Content warning: the following review contains discussion of mental health and suicide.
I’ll admit to you, dear reader, that I was initially quite daunted by the idea of watching a film like Cured. The Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer-directed documentary, which won the Audience Award at both New York and San Francisco’s 2020 LGBTQ Film Festivals, promises to tackle a variety of heavy topics. It revolves around the political movement (and the queer revolutionaries that spearheaded it) to remove ‘homosexuality’ from the APA’s (the American Psychiatric Association) list of mental illnesses; Cured also discusses [and depicts with real footage] the various ‘treatments’ offered to gay people in the mid-1900s, which ranged from shaming ‘talk therapies’ all the way to surgical lobotomies.
It all sounds pretty intense - maybe now you can understand my hesitation going into the film - but I’m delighted to tell you all that Cured is anything but arduous. While some of the (impressively vast) array of archival footage is certainly hard to stomach, Cured is ultimately a story of queer tenacity, resilience and solidarity - one as uplifting as it is infuriating, and one that proudly introduces its viewers to a menagerie of heroes we’ve failed to honour in modern civil rights discourse.
There is a richness to this documentary thanks, I believe, to its aforementioned wealth of archival footage, which aptly illustrates every chapter of the narrative and provides a stunningly intimate insight into the movement. Where video footage isn’t available, the film relies on photographs, old diary entries, and audio recordings; Cured's multimedia commitment to ensure this story is told correctly is incredibly satisfying for the audience, and allows us to form a genuine connection to the various figures that Cured spotlights.
And though many of these figures have passed away in the recent decades, Cured makes sure to incorporate previously filmed interviews to make sure that the people who actually fought for their voice will find it included and immortalised in this film. Cured uses these segments so effectively that it was only during the film’s end-cards that I realised most of its narrators have been dead for quite some time - the production could have easily hired a narrator to piece this all together, but this approach makes for a far warmer and sentimental tribute.
It’s worth re-clarifying that this film is a little hardcore. Real footage of medicinal torture is peppered throughout the film - though it is never done so in a gratuitous way, just purely to crystalize the stakes of the anti-APA queer movement - and various moments of the film are upsetting with a focus on mental health and suicide. But this isn’t torture porn, and Cured doesn’t dwell in its sorrows. It is the warmth that radiates from the various interview segments in the film that offsets the brutality of its context; the anti-APA movement’s charming and lovable figureheads really are the stars of this show.
It’s also worth noting the elephant in the room - Cured is, unfortunately, a pretty timely film, and its UK premier at the 2021 BFI Flare coincides with mounting pressure on the government to ban so-called ‘conversion therapy’, which is still common in Britain today. Of course, Cured focuses on conversion therapy backed by the APA, while current political discourse is concerned with conversion therapy fueled by religious bigotry, but the similarities between the two practices are pretty obvious even from first glance. It is my hope that Cured acts as a tool to demonstrate the harm of such anti-gay “therapies”, and that a film like this will bolster our own, modern efforts to eradicate these torturous practices.
Overall, Cured is a really special documentary that’s focus on pre-Stonewall queer history immediately helps it to stand out from its competition. The charismatic queer activists that the film introduces us to bring levity to the upsetting context, and their charm alone makes Cured a crucial text for anyone interested in the history of the western queer rights movement. You’ll walk away from this feeling impacted, inspired and informed - what more could you possibly want from a documentary?
Written by James Green