Producer-directors Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon have created a new LGBTQ documentary: Cured.
The film tells the story of the LGBTQ activists, allies and events surrounding the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Singer previously co-produced and co-directed Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin while Sammon (a former national president of the LGBTQ group Log Cabin Republicans) was the creator and an executive producer of Codebreaker, about the life and legacy of British mathematician/computer analyst Alan Turing.
They were introduced to each other by mutual friend Mario Correa about 10 years ago. Sammon said as he was doing distribution on Codebreaker, he relied on Singer for advicewhich led to Singer becoming a consulting producer for Codebreaker. Sammon added that he recruited Singer to join him in co-producing/co-directing Cured. This was five years ago.
"It has been a long journey, but also a really wonderful collaboration," said Sammon.
"It really has been a productive collaboration because I think we bring different skills and perspectives to the day-to-day work," said Singer. "We do have this shared vision underlying everything in terms of seeing the value of chronicling LGBTQ history. Our earlier projects were along the same lines as this one in recovering, uncovering and unearthing stories that might otherwise have been forgotten or marginalized, and that impulse is what drove us to tell this story."
Singer said that when Sammon originally approached him about this story, he did not have a clear understanding of the significance of this moment in LGBTQ history, so it was a learning process for him.
Both said the film shows how the activists were motivated to take on seemingly impossible oddsconfronting the APAbecause of the stigma that was caused by the mental illness label. Sammon added that the APA's decision "had to be the first domino to fall" in order for gay, lesbian and bisexual people's psyche to heal because they had a lot of internalized homophobia due to how the world saw them.
"It is the ultimate David-versus-Goliath story," said Sammon.
Some of the people featured in the film are Dr. Frank Kameny; activist Barbara Gittings; photographer/activist Kay Lahusen; psychiatrist Dr. John Fryer; therapist/activist Dr. Charles Silverstein; minister/advocate Rev. Magora Kennedy; and GLAAD co-founder Ron Gold.
Additionally, Singer and Sammon felt it was important to show archival footage of electroshock therapy, lobotomies and other harsh treatments LGBT people faced at that timein order to underscore why it was so important to change the DSM classification of homosexuality. They also included a Los Angeles ZAP demonstration where the protesters also engaged in dialogue with the therapists; an historic 1971 David Susskind Show episode featuring seven out lesbian guests, including Gittings and Kennedy; and a 1973 60 Minutes episode documenting what host Morley Safer called a "civil war" in the world of psychiatry over this issue.
Singer and Sammon, along with archival producers Mridu Chandra and Lewanne Jones, scoured the globe for these and other elements. During their research, they uncovered an audio recording of a 1973 speech that Gold made where he told a gathering of psychiatrists, "Stop it, you are making me sick." They found another audio recording when they were at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania looking at Fryer's materials. That recording was his speech at the 1972 APA Annual Meeting where he wore the mask onstage with Kameny and Gittings and said, "I am a homosexual and I am a psychiatrist and a human being."
Singer said that having Fryer's authentic voice in the film was vital, especially since the film will have its PBS broadcast premiere Monday, Oct. 11 National Coming Out Day. He added that it was fortuitous that this year's National Coming Out Day falls on the day of the week when Independent Lens airs. Sammon noted, "This National Coming Out Day is also the tenth anniversary of Frank Kameny's death."
Cured landed on PBS' Independent Lens because Singer and Sammon approached the Independent Television Service (ITVS), which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, after spending some of their own money to put together a short trailer. ITVS liked what they saw and decided to help fund the film through their Open Call competition. There were 270 applicants; Cured was one of seven films chosen.
ITVS offered the film to various PBS series and Independent Lens jumped at the opportunity to feature it.
"Bennett and I were really interested in having our film shown in a place where everyone can see it," said Sammon. "You do not need to pay for a streaming service or have cable to watch this because it is on public television and streaming on pbs.org for an entire month. That will allow it to reach all corners of the country and maybe even people who are not familiar or supportive of LGBTQ equality. They might be drawn into this story and learn about this history. That is very appealing to us and we are very excited about it."
"Our films this fall honor individuals whose determination in the face of challenge reflect major issues impacting our nation and our world, and our goal is always to inspire meaningful conversations around timely and often challenging issues," said Independent Lens Executive Producer Lois Vossen in a press release. "Cured gets to the very core of this; shining a light on the inspiring LGBTQ+ activists who went up against a powerful institution and used open dialogue to create immense change, the impact of which is still felt today. I can't think of a more appropriate film to open this new season."
As for why this is an important film for especially young people to see, Singer said it offers a "blueprint for activism not only for LGBTQ folks but for anyone who is concerned about social change and social justice. It is a roadmap for transforming society for the better.
"There are ongoing efforts to cure or convert or repair people based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the form of conversion therapy. That is a direct connection to our film, which shows the historical roots of those efforts. Twenty states have banned conversion therapy for minors, but 30 states still allow licensed professionals to conduct these therapy sessions with minors, and every state allows it for adults."
Sammon added that the current attacks on transgender and non-binary people also make this story relevant to today's audience.
Cured has already received many accolades, including a $50,000 award in the 2020 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film. Additionally, the film has screened at more than 50 LGBTQ film festivals worldwide.
As for the future, Singer and Sammon said Cured has been optioned to become the basis of a scripted series for FX or Hulu. It is in the early development stages with Pose Co-Creator Steven Canals attached as writer and executive producer. They see this as another way to tell this story to a wider audience.
Cured will air nationally on PBS on Monday, Oct. 11. Check local listings for airtimes.