Georgian far-right groups attempt to storm cinema at gay romance movie premiere
Hundreds of far-right protesters clashed with filmgoers and police at the Georgian premiere of And Then We Danced, an Oscar-nominated film that celebrates gay love.
Set and filmed in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, And Then We Danced is the country’s first LGBT+ film, starring a gay dancer who is coming to terms with his sexuality.
The Swedish-Georgian movie has attracted strong backlash from the Georgian Orthodox Church as well the country’s ultra-conservative groups, which have described it as “revolting”.
Several hundred protesters staged a furious demonstration outside Tbilisi’s Amirani Cinema on Friday, November 8, attempting to storm the theatre to stop the film being shown.
Riot police were deployed to protect the venue as anti-gay activists threw rocks and firecrackers. They were heard chanting “Long live Georgia!” and “Shame!” at filmgoers while an Orthodox priest recited prayers over a burning Pride flag.
Local LGBT+ activist Ana Subeliani was among those injured during the protest. In a Facebook post she claimed “police did nothing” as she and her friends “were severely beaten and threatened.” Images of her bleeding and in an ambulance circulated on social media.
Activist of Tbilisi Pride – Ana Subeliani got attacked today when she was trying to get to the cinema. Police was witnessing the homophobic slurs towards Ana and didn’t take preventive measures to stop the violence. Ana is now hospitalized.#TbilisiPride #Georgia pic.twitter.com/ue0dKEwvLY
— Tbilisi Pride (@TbilisiPride) November 8, 2019
The cinema was forced to lock the theatre doors to protect filmgoers, and a police guard escorted them away from the venue after the film ended. Georgia’s Interior Ministry issued a statement saying 11 protesters were arrested for “disobeying police.”
Elsewhere in Georgia, protesters tried to derail a screening in Batumi, where they pelted the Appollo Cinema with eggs and threw fireworks into the venue’s hallways.
Tensions began rising in the weeks before the film’s screening as LGBT+ advocates, film critics and religious leaders entered the debate.
Nationalist group Alt-Info called on its followers to join the protest with a viral video that described And Then We Danced as part of “an informational and ideological war between conservatism and liberalism.”
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A phalanx of police guarding Amirani cinema during a screening of queer romance film “And Then We Danced”. pic.twitter.com/CWhvWHg4G4
— Peter Liakhov (@peterliakhov) November 8, 2019
In a statement before the premiere, Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs warned it would “ensure the protection of public safety and order, as well as the freedom of self-expression. We address everyone: obey the law. Otherwise, police will use their lawful mandate and suppress unlawful acts immediately.”
The film’s Swedish director, Levan Akin, was defiant in the face of threats and refused to cancel the screenings.
“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,” he wrote on Facebook before the premiere.
“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.
“But unfortunately these are the dark times we live in and the pending protests just proves how vital it is to stand up against these shadowy forces in any way we can.”