BFI Flare 2015: We Came To Sweat

London LGBT Film Festival 2015

"When a Brooklyn landmark, the black-owned and operated Starlite, is threatened with eviction by new landlords, its 50-year history as a pre-Stonewall gay bar and dance club is in peril. This film is a history of the club, its patrons and its staff, many of whom are also deserving of national treasure status. It’s not just in London that gentrification and rising property prices tempt landlords to sell to developers in the hope of making a fast buck. The community rallies around in protest, but is it enough? The history of the Starlite and its importance to the black gay community as a privileged space is underlined by the rich testimony from elders and family members for whom the venue is simply a part of their life. With a rich soundtrack of great music, reflecting the club’s influence on the creation of disco, the film is a warning to anyone who thinks their favourite gay bar is a permanent fixture." BFI Flare

We Came To Sweat is both a fascinating snapshot of the death of the gay bar, and a sobering cautionary tale about so-called "gentrification" (a.k.a. ethnic and socio-economic cleansing), and the misplaced priorities of the (specifically black) gay community.

The Starlite Lounge opened in 1962 (yes: 1962) in Crown Heights, Brooklyn by openly gay black entrepreneur Mackie Harris. There it remained for nearly fifty years. We Came To Sweat tells the story of its rise, and tragic fall.

Director Kate Kunath's film documents the Starlite's battle for survival in agonising detail, and even though we know how the story ends, we can't help but hope against hope for a different outcome. After all, fifty years of history, and a place so precious and irreplaceable, is at stake. So the question must be asked how could the Starlite Lounge have been allowed to close? Where were the great and the good of the gay community? (Perhaps off writing a play about the whole sorry episode for the amusement of the dinner party set...) Where were New York City's wealthy black gays when their community needed them? Talk, it seems, is cheap.

We Came To Sweat is tragic, but it isn't a total downer, because Kunath also captures the spirit of the Starlite's beautiful "elders and family members", who'd seen it all, and then some. In the end, they were perhaps just too damn tired. The bad guys won, and now, the Starlite looks like this:

Next: Stories of Our Lives.

Read last year's reviews.


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