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Out to Win - BFI Flare

Saturday 21 March 2015, by Ryan Ormonde

Out To Win is a pumped-up documentary, primed to convince sports fans of the need to address homophobia within various games and to praise and support LGBT players brave enough to come out. Whether it converts non-believers into sports fans is another matter. I found the opening montage of out-and-proud athletes strutting their stuff (in a sporty way) to Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ to be rather exhilarating, and my ears pricked up when an interviewee explained that the appeal of sport lies in its guarantee of drama, but really I was only interested in the off-pitch stories. Every one of them is inspiring in some way, and all are told well, if briskly.

Though most sports personalities featured are American, the film includes two extraordinary Brits. NBA Hall-of-Famer John Amaechi is spotted in Market Street in Manchester as an overweight, bookish teen. He cites literary character Quasimodo as a kindred spirit for him at the time, as they are both met with amused and frightened reactions by people around them. Within six years Amaechi is idolised on basketball courts across America. Coming out as gay eight years ago and post-NBA he was greeted with praise and hatred. The story of Justin Fashanu is better known and far more tragic, his public shunning by his brother and fans after he came out and his subsequent suicide remains a grim warning for gay footballers today.

As with everything these days, social media will have a role to play in helping LGBT athletes to come out, providing them encouragement, offering them distraction and inevitably facilitating some abuse. When baby-faced college football star Conner Mertens posts a coming-out letter he wrote to his team on Twitter his whole life changes. Olympic gold medallist Charline Labonté is interviewed just as an online piece she has written to publically out herself goes live. We watch her scroll through tweets of support, an experience she describes as ‘overwhelming’. When Labonté notes how positive the response is, in the same breath she anticipates negative tweets to come.

In a statement included in the press material for the film, founder of Outsports.com Cyd Zeigler remarks: ‘gay history has simply been pushed to the sidelines of sports, politics and entertainment for too long’. It follows that Out To Win could not have come soon enough, and it seems director Malcolm Ingram has hit on a winning formula. I can’t wait for him to apply it to the worlds of showbiz and politics.

Dir: Malcolm Ingram, 2014

BFI Flare film festival runs until Sunday 29th March -tickets are available from www.bfi.org.uk/flare

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