It was a watershed moment in history when voters in California narrowly passed Proposition 8 in the 2008 election. The measure amended the California state constitution so as to deny marriage rights to non-heterosexual couples, throwing the status of some 18,000 families into doubt.
For the first time, existing rights had been stripped from a minority population through a popular vote; would the floodgates open? Who would be next, and what rights would they lose at the ballot box?
The ramifications of Prop 8 were profound, widespread, and instantaneous. The result galvanized the anti-gay hard right, who instantly capitalized on the vote and the ensuing peaceful protests by attempting to paint gay families as lawless thugs intent on doing violence on innocent defenders of traditional values of family and faith.
But the shock waves from Prop 8 also electrified the gay community. The documentary Inspired: The Voices Against Prop 8 examines how everyday people became overnight activists, and how activists from different communities began to build bridges in order to join together and speak out.
The documentary begins in the wake of the passage of Prop 8 and counts down to the "Day of Decision," the 2009 California State Supreme Court finding that upheld the anti-gay ballot question but also affirmed the status of the 18,000 couples who had already married. As the court’s decision nears, activists from different areas -- Long beach, Silver Lake, East Los Angeles -- organize their own street demonstrations, go head to head with the L.A.P.D., and start to establish ties to one another.
Director Charles Gage trains his lens on equality activists, some of them newly minted, who point out the obvious: The opposition to Prop 8 had run an ineffectual campaign, and the gay community as a whole had become complacent. Writer Ian J. McIntosh provides some juicy swipes at the "espresso and gelato set" who previously would never have dirtied their hands or ventured into neighborhoods deemed "unfriendly" to gays -- meaning neighborhoods where Latinos and African Americans lived.
The film does tackle the issue of race. "Black self-righteousness, meet gay white entitlement," one African American interviewee declares in summarizing his response to how whites blamed racial minority voters for the measure’s success. "I’ll leave you two alone -- I’ve dealt with you all my life."
The film also looks at the issue of the boycotts that followed, with targets including small businesses like El Coyote, a Mexican restaurant whose owner had donated money to the pro-Prop 8 side -- and then called a press conference to promote the antigay measure. Big businesses were also boycotted, including the Manchester Marriott, owned by wealthy Prop 8 supporter Doug Manchester. It was boycotts such as these that helped to fuel the extreme right’s claims that gays were intent on intimidating defenders of "traditional" marriage, particularly Christians. What’s interesting is how those boycotts remain controversial even among equality activists.
The advance screener for "Inspired" included several deleted scenes, including Lt. Dan Choi reciting a poem by Gibran Khalil Gibran in the original Arabic and a short interview with two activists, one Caucasian and one Latino, whose work for marriage parity led to their meeting and falling in love. The press material mentioned two featurettes, but neither appeared on the review screener.
This DVD is a must for anyone seeking a more complete picture of the Prop 8 battle, which still rages in the courts. The measure itself is an example of taking two steps backwards, but by the same token the energy and focus it brought to the issue (not to mention the plethora of equality groups that sprang up in short order) may well have played a crucial role in the dazzling successes of the recent election.