The new movie Pride is what my husband calls, with a hint of irony, a crowd-pleaser. A crowd-pleaser usually contrives not to challenge or surprise the audience but to make them smile and even pander to their world view. A crowd-pleaser can be well-made and fun, but usually contains predictable, almost stylized elements, such as lovable characters, an emotional climax, and clearly recognizable villains. With those caveats, I can recommend Pride. I’d recommend any movie in which the remarkable English actor Bill Nighy appears. An unlikely real-life story, the movie recounts the alliance of a London gay-rights group with striking Welsh miners in 1984. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was determined to close dozens of mines, not only depriving miners of their jobs but effectively destroying the villages around the mines. Thousands of miners went on strike in response, and violent attacks by police ensued. In the end, the government won, the strike was broken, and the mines eventually shut down.
In the meantime, however, an obscure group of gay activists decided to raise money for the striking miners. With mutual suspicion, the groups came together and eventually formed political alliances and lasting personal friendships. With no irony intended, I would call the story heart-warming. I cried at the end, as I was clearly intended to do.
Throughout the film, I kept thinking how particularly inspiring it is when one group takes on the cause of another. The 1964 murders, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, of civil-rights activists Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner are no more tragic than that of their black CORE colleague James Earl Chaney, but there’s a special poignancy in two white boys sacrificing their lives for the sake of people unlike themselves. The imprisonment and execution of the Christian Dietrich Bonoeffer on behalf of his Jewish brothers and sisters in Nazi Germany prick the conscience. We ourselves may not be oppressed, but what can we do for those who are?
The film reminded me of one of my favorite stories from American history. In 1848, the great abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass attended the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, in solidarity with the many early feminists who had spoken out, with him, against slavery.
Firebrand Elizabeth Cady Stanton resolved to introduce a motion at the Convention calling for suffrage for women. The men in attendance, all otherwise in sympathy with women’s causes, balked at this radical move. Even Mr. Stanton walked out in protest.
Frederick Douglass, in contrast, spoke passionately in favor of the women’s right to vote, saying, “We hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go farther, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for women.” Deprived of basic human rights himself, he recognized the consistency of supporting basic human rights for everyone.
Later, he wrote, “The case is too plain for argument. Nature has given woman the same powers, and subjected her to the same earth, breathes the same air, subsists on the same food, physical, moral, mental and spiritual. She has, therefore, an equal right with man, in all efforts to obtain and maintain a perfect existence.”
In later life, summing up the theme of this post more eloquently than I can, he expressed a special pride in his enlightened (and unpopular) position. “When I ran away from slavery,” he wrote, “it was for myself; when I advocated emancipation, it was for my people; but when I stood up for the rights of women, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act.”
So the crowd-pleaser Pride made me reflect on these noble actions. It reminded me of my friend Tricia, a middle-aged white woman spending the week in Ferguson, Missouri, demonstrating on behalf of a young black man killed by police.