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The 2017 Sidewalk Film Festival Reviews: Alabama Bound (2017)

| August 30, 2017

Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
– Martin Luther King, Jr., August 16, 1967

It has now been more than three generations since the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 that helped kick off The Civil Rights Movement, an event that, at all points, rang with the truth of King’s words.  All around Alabama today (which happens to be my home) are monuments to the struggle; remembrances of those brave enough to put themselves on the front lines; most are embossed with satisfied quotes that remind us of the need for equality.  They are not baseless, but the social and political strata of the 21st century with regards to the equal treatment of gays and lesbians is a sad reminder that while King’s statement may be true, there is still a long way to go.

The five women at the center of the extraordinary new documentary Alabama Bound might agree.  They are gay, they call Alabama home, and all have met with the frustration of an immobile state government hell-bent of denying them their basic human dignity.  The agonizing uphill climb for equality is a renouncement of the quotes on those Civil Rights monuments, proving that 50 years after the freedom struggle, things haven’t changed all that much.  The refusal on the state’s government ‘s part to allow gays and lesbians their rights is an eerie echo of the state’s recent past, when George Wallace stood in the door of The University of Alabama.

Filmmakers Lara Embry and Carolyn Sherer certainly feel that way.  The historic stonewall of this state’s government over the questions of equal rights rings with familiarity.  Yet, their achievement is far from being just another lengthy news piece.  They have set out to document the emotional journey of five gay women living in Alabama whose lives are personally effected by Alabama’s refusal to grant them their rights on the grounds that their “lifestyle” is not biblically sound.

The film’s great achievement is that it avoids the victim card by showing the facts as they are.  The subjects chosen have all been met with legal stonewalls bound in the excuse that the bible trumps any objections that they have over their request for equal treatment.  Even as the country was moving toward the historic Obergefell v Hodges case, which ended with The United States Supreme Court declaring same-sex marriage legal throughout the land, thousands of gays and lesbians throughout Alabama were met with legal and illegal delays established as measure of blurring the lines between church and state.

First is the story of Ceri Searcy and Kim McKeand who went on a 9 year-legal tug-of-war with the state when Kim was denied the right to be listed as a co-parent to their infant son who was born with a hole in his heart.  Leaning the excuse that Kim’s California marriage to Ceri was not recognized by The State of Alabama, the Judge denied her the right to adopt him and become his parent.  Met with every legal stonewall along the way, they are dumbstruck by the homophobia and indifference with which their case is treated even after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The second story is the most heartbreaking; the story of Kinley, who married her best friend from childhood (a male) before she came out, and gave birth to a son.  During the divorce, she could not afford legal representation and lost custody because she was a lesbian.  Later, when her son began to show signs of having been beaten severely by his step-mother, it naturally lit a fire under Kinley to get full custody.  And yet, even a case of child abuse wasn’t good enough.  Believe it or not, Kinley was only granted a limited custody arrangement.

Finally is the story a Patricia Todd, a charming fire-brand of passion and energy who became so frustrated by the Alabama State legal system that she decided that the only way to fight it was to be part of it.  In 2006 she ran for, and won, a seat on the Alabama House of Representatives from the 54th district, becoming the first ever openly gay elected official in the state of Alabama (the local news  made this fact abundantly clear).  But winning the election proved to be only the first step.  Inside the halls of government she found herself face with a stonewall of opposition of indifference and hateful malignence from other politicians.  But she never let them put her fire out, even when their unprofessional discord was waved off by hard-nosed conservatives as “nothing personal.”

It is very personal, and that’s the strength of this very moving document. Their struggle is told in one of the best documentaries of the year.  Here is living, breathing documentary that details a portrait of our times, of how we live now.  These five women face legal problems that half a century after the Civil Rights movement should have been a thing of the past.  The strength here is that we don’t just see and hear the politicians striking back and forth – although the movie does hold their feet to the fire, particularly the immobile Christian Conservative Judge Roy Moore, who served as Alabama’s Chief Justice and was removed when he ordered probate judges to continue to enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriage despite the Supreme Court decision.  Those facts help us understand that these ladies are up against.

In the midst of the legal facts are the personal stories of heartbreak and denial in even the most terminal domestic situations.  The decade-long journey of Ceri and Kim ends with the Supreme Court decision but in a bit of bad comedy, they then find themselves locked out when they try to attain a marriage license due to Moore’s order.  For Pat, her struggle costs her a partner of 8-years as the political battle consumes her time and energy.

But the most touching is Kinley, whose heartbreak over the future of her son is skin deep.  We can feel it too.  The camera moves in close and so that we can see the distress in her eyes.  Kinley crumbles emotionally, but always at her side is her resolute wife Autumn who never gives up hope.  Kinley imparts to us, in a beautiful scene, that all through the legal procedures, Autumn has made time to be there even when it put her job at risk.  She stands up for Kinley, she stands beside her as her rock and her source of comfort, dedication and stability.  You know what?  That sounds like a marriage to me.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2017) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary