Every year in June, graduating high school students are plunged into the world of dress sales and suit rentals, promposals and awkward texts, school regulations and after-parties. While their peers adjust to the whirlwind, LGBTQ+ students have another layer of obstacles to navigate.
In “Take Me to Prom,” director Andrew Moir sits down with LGBTQ+ Canadians, aged 17 to 88, to talk about their prom. Repressed crushes, group protests, painful outfit restrictions, alternative bush parties, and awkward uber rides pepper the colourful stories of each interviewee, dressed in what they wore on their so-called special night—or what they would have worn. The documentary strolls right past some of the biggest milestones on the path towards queer liberation—Stonewall, the 1969 Criminal Law Amendment, the 2005 Civil Marriage Act, and more—with its lens firmly fixed on the individual. The set and props, often arranged subtly around time-appropriate television sets where historical footage or reenactments play, are the only interjected nods to each era. The sense of progress is constructed primarily through the stories shared: as each one unfolds, speeding closer and closer to 2019, gradual social change is revealed. The stories Moir has brought to us reflect the broader movement of LGBTQ+ rights in Canada, but they add personality to the headlines, translating abstract discussions about human rights into personal pain and triumph.
Locals might recognize Marc Hall’s name from London’s own news headlines last year. A London-wide high school theatre initiative selected Prom Queen, a musical dramatization of Marc Hall’s 2002 court battle with the Catholic District Schoolboard to take his boyfriend to prom, as their 2018 production. In a move that seemed to cement the continued necessity of the play, the London District Catholic and the Thames Valley District school boards pulled $30,000 of funding usually provided to the program. The boards claimed they removed funding because of how school boards and officials were represented in the play, but ironically, much of the dialogue from the school board and courtroom scenes were inserted into the musical verbatim from transcripts of the real events. After a crowdfunding campaign raised nearly $75,000 (and the equivalent in outrage) to replace the funding, the public board reinstated its half of the donation.
This kind of relative progress is reflected in “Take Me to Prom.” The undercurrent of emotion in this film is bittersweet, and the tightrope it walks between happiness and pain will be familiar to many queer folk. Much about LGBTQ+ culture is joyous; the movement is founded on the principles of embracing and celebrating who you are (featuring special guests dancing and glitter). But we cannot, and should not, forget that the queer world’s biggest celebration was and is a protest: a direct rejection of the pain, historical and current, that LGBTQ+ people deal with in relation to their identities. “Take Me to Prom” embraces this fully, its set vivid and colourful but its shots lingering on painful silences, tears, and resignation. The stories, old and new, have moments of happiness, irony, pain, resistance, and love. The film is part of a legacy that responds to discrimination by holding on that much harder to joy.