Protests, arrests and injuries as Georgians protest gay film's debut

Hundreds gathered on Friday in the former Soviet republic to protest the opening of "And Then We Danced," a critically acclaimed LGBTQ film.
Image:
Georgian demonstrators gather to protest against the film "And Then We Danced", in Tbilisi, Georgia on Nov. 8, 2019. Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered outside a movie theater in the capital of the country of Georgia to protest the showing of a film about homosexual attraction.Zurab Tsertsvadze / AP
By Alex Cooper

Several people were reportedly injured as hundreds gathered on Friday in the former Soviet republic of Georgia to protest the opening of a critically acclaimed gay film in the capital city of Tbilisi.

The protested film, “And Then We Danced,” portrays a young man in the Georgian national ballet company who falls in love with a rival performer. The same-sex love story, directed by Levan Akin, a Swedish national of Georgian descent, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and has been selected as Sweden’s entry for the Academy Award for best international feature.

Demonstrators in downtown Tbilisi tried to break into one of six cinemas showing the film but were held back by police. Authorities released a statement saying 11 protesters had been arrested for “delinquencies.”

Local activist Ana Subeliani was among those injured during the protest. Images of her bleeding and in an ambulance circulated on social media, while local news agencies reported live from the theater showing filmgoers being ushered quickly into the building among heavy police guard. In a Facebook post, however, Subeliani claimed “police did nothing” as she and her friends “were severely beaten and threatened.”

Tbilisi Pride, which in July organized the country’s first-ever LGBTQ pride march, also accused police of failing to adequately provide protection to participants.

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“Police [were] witnessing the homophobic slurs towards Ana and didn't take preventive measures to stop the violence,” the organization wrote on Twitter.

In a message sent to NBC News on Friday, Lela Akiashvili, who works on gender equality issues at the United Nations Development Program, said about 100 protestors stayed until the end of the film.

“Police still had a corridor for those who were leaving just in case. However, only cameras were chasing people exiting the cinema,” she explained, adding that no violent incidents occurred after the screening.

Friday’s protest was not altogether a surprise. Leading up to the film's debut, Georgian authorities said they were ready to face possible demonstrations as far-right and religious groups publicly condemned the film.

The Georgian Orthodox Church had come out against “And Then We Danced” earlier this week, though it did discourage any violence.

“The Georgian Orthodox Church has always been, is, and will continue to be, categorically incompatible with the promotion and legalization of sin as well as the sodomite relationship,” the church wrote in a statement. “That is why we find it unacceptable to see such a movie in movie theaters.”

Days before Friday’s screening, the film’s director took to social media to call out those who were planning to protest and explain the need to stand up against such attacks.

"It is absurd that people who bought tickets need to be brave and risk getting harassed or even assaulted just for going to see a film," Akin wrote on Instagram. “I made this film with love and compassion. It is my love letter to Georgia and to my heritage. With this story I wanted to reclaim and redefine Georgian culture to include all not just some.”

While homosexuality is legal in Georgia and the government has put in place anti-discrimination laws, activists and experts have said that much still needs to be done to ensure adequate protections for LGBTQ Georgians. In a report from 2018, the UN’s expert on violence and discrimination of LGBTQ people said that beatings, harassment and exclusion were commonplace in the country.

International human rights group ILGA-Europe urged authorities to do more to “ensure protection” and “the freedom of expression and speech” of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Georgians.

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