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The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell - Movie Review - 2011

Chronicling Discrimination Against Gays and Lesbians in the US Military

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The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell - Movie Review - 2011

In 'The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell," a gay soldier must hide his identity to avoid being kicked out of the military.

HBO Documentaries
The US military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) policy regarding gays and lesbians serving in the US Armed Forces has been the subject of controversy since it was introduced in 1993 by then President Bill Clinton.

More formally known as Defense Directive 1304.26, it was intended as a compromise, one that prevented questioning military recruits about their sexual preferences. It has since been used by the military as a license to conduct homophobic witch hunts, resulting in unprecedented numbers of career soldiers, most with medals for distinguished service, being discharged when their sexual preferences were noted.

Out Of The Closet And On To The Battlefield

In case you're not up to speed on the extraordinarily complex history of the DADT policy and its ramifications, this well researched documentary will quickly fix that.

But before launching into coverage of current controversies about homosexuals in the US military, it provides a bit of history about gays in the armed forces throughout history.

Filmmakers Fenton Baily and Randy Barbuto smartly open The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell by introducing prominent military leaders of yore -- the warriors of ancient Sparta, Alexander the Great and American Revolutionary War hero Lieutenant General Frederick Von Stuben, among others -- who were homosexual.

This impressive list of openly gay military leaders leaves no doubt that homosexuals can serve effectively and honorably in the military.

With that in mind, we meet numerous gays and lesbians who are serving in today's military - with great heroism and honor - but who must constantly lie about their true identities, hide their homosexuality and their love relationships in order to serve, risking their lives, and perhaps dying, for our country. To protect their identities, they're filmed in shadow, or from behind, or showing just one ear, or their hands, or their boot-clad feet. They're still vulnerable to the DADT policy: if they say they're homosexuals, their military careers will be terminated.

However, the film also follows the high profile stories of three high-ranking service members -- heroes, all -- who were discharged for homosexuality, protested publicly and challenged DADT in court and on Capital Hill.

Fighting For Repeal and Relief

Demonstrations against the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, as seen in 'The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell'

HBO Documentaries
In 2010, gay and civil rights activists were ready to push for repeal of DADT, and the removal of any and all legislation discriminating against openly gay and lesbian individuals serving in the armed forces with equal opportunity, equal rights, equal benefits. The political fight was spearheaded by Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-Pennsylvania), an Iraq war vet, whose strong stand against DADT probably cost him reelection, and by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN)'s Aubrey Sarvis.

The film follows the complex politicking - pro and con, including coverage of John McCain's obstructionism - that resulted, ultimately, in enactment of new legislation, with President Barak Obama signing it on Dec. 22, 2010.

The non-discriminatory policy towards gay and lesbians in the armed forces is slated to take effect on Sept. 20, 2011, the day The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell is first broadcast on HBO.

Whether implementation will occur as scheduled remains to be seen. Like many documentaries, The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell comes to a conclusion, but the real life story - and struggle - continues. It's important to track it.

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Film Details

  • Title: The Strange History of Don't Ask Don't Tell
  • Directors: Fenton Baily and Randy Barbuto
  • Trailer
  • Broadcast Premiere: September 20, 2011 (HBO)
  • Running Time: 62 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Location: USA and archival war footage from various countries.
  • Distribution Company: HBO Documentaries

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