“Small Town Rage: Fighting Back in the Deep South”

ACT UP Shreveport, Louisiana

Amos Lassen

“Small Town Rage: Fighting Back in the Deep South” is David Hylan and Raydra Hall’s documentary is that is a small town story, a local history lesson and a memorial to those who didn’t make it.” The documentary examine the work and influence of ACT UP Shreveport in the conservative Deep South. Being from the South and from Louisiana, I want to explain that what many consider to be the South is southern only by location. New Orleans, my hometown is not a Southern city as we imagine, say Natchez, Mississippi or Nashville, Tennessee to be. New Orleans is more of a seaboard city. Shreveport, on the other hand is a southern city that incorporates something of Texas and something of the south. In order to look at Shreveport, we must discard the southern stereotypes. When we think of activism, we tend to think of people who live in big cities and who hold demonstrations. To really understand this film we must forget what we know about activism and big cities and think about the stigma that many attach to LGBT life.

In the 1980s, when HIV was spreading unchecked across America, smaller places were affected as well as big cities. Suddenly there appeared to be communities that even many gay people had not known were there. Shreveport, Louisiana was a small town that , to fight back and fight AIDS.

Five members of the core group, Act Up Shreveport survived and this is their story. The film is structured around interviews with them, illustrated by photographs taken at the time, newspaper articles and archive footage. Naturally some of what we see is upsetting and now years later it is still a difficult topic. People lost many friends and met with prejudice encountered they tried to do something about it but do not worry, this is also an inspiring story about courageous people who never let their lack of numbers destroy the faith they had in their ability to bring about change.

The Shreveport group was inspired by Act Up in New York City, and by the various other chapters in the nations major cities. It began with just three members but quickly grew and used the idea that it was a book club in order to get meeting space – this was not the sort of town where people acknowledged the existence of gay people, let alone wanted to make contact with them at a time when rumors about AIDS ran rampant. There were some straight allies who were there from the very beginning and we certainly hear about them here.

“Small Town Rage” looks at the impact of AIDS across the community, beginning the stage at which gay men were mysteriously dying to that at which women, especially black women, were dying in large numbers without no one willing to say that they were suffering from the same disease. There’s a lot of focus on battles with the medical establishment, with the doctor who helped the group and he reminisces about the tricks he used to extract medicines from a system that was unwilling to help.

We also hear ethical questions about whether or not it’s ever ethical to out someone and the cost of doing so to the other people involved. Indeed, we see that big things can begin in small places.

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