‘Stephen Fry: Out There’ (BBC2) Review

Almost three years in the making and much-anticipated, Stephen Fry: Out There – the actor and presenter’s documentary about sexuality and homophobia across the world – aired in two parts this week, with the final instalment broadcast last night.

As someone who is gay and has an interest in LGBT rights across the world, I was looking forward to these films hugely. I hoped that they would shine a light on the narrow-minded individuals who are somehow given a platform far too often on which to spout their detestable, absolutely sickening anti-gay propaganda, and show them for the fools that they really are.

And that is exactly what it did.

 

Across the two programmes, Stephen met people who have either been an advocate and victim of the, sadly many, homophobic laws and traditions which still exist in this world. Before I get into the advocates (about which I have a lot to say, I can assure you), let me first focus on those inspirations who have been ostracised, had their lives threatened and rights removed simply because of their sexuality.

One such person was Farshad: a man who is seeking refuge in the UK, having had to flee his home country of Iran, because he was ‘outed’ and accused of raping his boyfriend, when all he had in fact done was partaken in consensual sex. He said that he would seriously consider suicide if he was made to return to his home country – an outcome which unfortunately seems quite likely as the UKStephen with Stosh, a Ugandan lesbian who was the victim of 'corrective rape' when she was just 14 years old authorities are reluctant to believe that he is gay.

There were many other people and groups that Stephen met during his travels: Stosh (pictured), a victim of the so-called ‘corrective rape’ in Uganda; Ice Breakers, an African LGBT support group; Renata Peron, a Brazilian drag queen who, despite having been severely attacked, continues to go out and be proud of who she is; and Coming Out, a Russian support service for gay teens. They are just some of those who Stephen visited, and whose determination and defiance was nothing short of inspirational and deserving of unending admiration. But then there was the other side. The homophobes.

There was Pastor Male in Uganda, who claimed that homosexuality is a self-inflicted ‘addiction’ and, as Stephen quite rightly pointed out, had a very strange obsession with anuses, penises and vaginas. In the documentary, he seemed more obsessed with gay sex than even gays are. In fact, he spoke almost as if he were a member of the, to quote Sir Gerald Howarth, ‘aggressive homosexual community’ himself.

Also in Uganda, Stephen met a vile…creature (although I can think of another rather apt C-word with which to describe him…) named Simon Lokodo, who – in not so many words – claimed that child rape is more acceptable than sodomy, because at least it is the ‘natural way of desiring sex’. Now I’m sure that even the most active member of the, to alter Sir Gerald Howarth’s quote slightly, ‘aggressive homophobic community’ would take umbrage with Lokodo’s opinion that paedophilia is not only better than gay sex but ‘natural’ too. His far-right views came so far from left field that they were quite difficult to comprehend. Is this man so idiotic, the possessor of such a clouded mind, that he actually, truly believes the tripe that he espouses? If so, I am sorry but I cannot feel angerStephen meeting Bob Corff, who trains actors to tone down their campness towards him: only pity. Huge pity. And the same goes for Rio congressman, Jair Bolsonaro and Russian politician, Vitaly Milinov, both of whom also waxed lyrical about how discussion of homosexuality – and sexuality in general – leads to primary school children being sucked into a life of buggery and immorality. All I could think when I watched these people speaking to a rather stunned Stephen Fry was, What an injustice. What an injustice it is that narrow-minded idiots like Bolsonaro, Milinov and the thousands like them will likely never have felt the isolation, the confusion and the sheer terror that grips a young person’s body when they realise, at whatever age, that they are gay. How sad that they may never have felt the anguish, the pain and the dread that often mars someone’s teenage years, simply because they have realised that they love people of the same gender or they were born the wrong sex. Then again, thank God that they will never feel the elation, happiness and overwhelming love that engulfs someone when they come out and are finally honest and frank. Thank God too that they will never experience the self-satisfaction that comes with accepting and loving others.

 

Of course, two hours of primetime television could not have been given to these bigots, most of whom are of the opinion that homosexuals should be executed, without there being a counter-argument, someone defending what is good and what is moral in the world today – and I cannot think of anyone better to do this than Stephen Fry. He made the perfect host and managed to produce a documentary which was not only better than his Key to the City programme for ITV (although that wasn’t exactly a tough feat) but really emphasised how lucky LGBT people in Britain are, as we live in a (largely) accepting society, where we can be who we want to be, and many don’t even bat an eyelid, while others in other countries like Uganda and Russia are having to fight authorities – the people who have ironically been put in power to protect them – and stand up for themselves, trying to prove that they can’t change the way that they were born.

For that is how they were born.

These films would not have been anywhere near as entertaining and informative if the presenter had not been Stephen Fry: a man so articulate, frank and utterly compelling. At no point did he shy  away from pointing out to pastors and ministers that what they were claiming was not right, was not moral, and should not be accepted by anyone. Although, to be honest, how anyone of sound mind can just take these people’s views as read in the first place is nothing short of baffling.

 

So, I hope that Out There fulfilled its mission to inform and educate people. To be honest, if you didn’t take at least something away from this – whether it be increased awareness of the importance of gay rights or simply empowerment about your own sexuality – I don’t think you were watching properly. I also hope that it showed that us gays aren’t all mincing personifications of camp, and that Pride isn’t just a ‘big gay party’ (as I’ve heard people call it in the past). The history of it is so much deeper and more serious than that, and it’s hopefully something which, in a few year’s time, will be celebrated across the world – sticking two fingers up to the homophobes and reminding them that they will not eradicate homosexuality.

No matter how hard they try.

Stephen with the Hijras, a transgender community in India

Image credits: Thanks to BBC and Maverick, ©Maverick

Stephen Fry: Out There is still available for a limited time on BBC iPlayer, via this link

What did you think of Stephen Fry: Out There? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

You can also see what’s coming up on TV in the coming week on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

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