Metro Weekly

Ask Not

Reel Affirmations 2008

Review by Tim Plant

Rating: starstarstarstar (4 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/18/2008, 12:00 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at Lincoln Theatre

EVEN FOR THOSE without a military fetish, Ask Not, Johnny Symons’ documentary about the military’s ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, is a worthwhile experience. It’s an insightful, if one-sided, look into the discriminatory policy enacted by President Clinton early in his administration and the harm it’s caused.

The documentary is built around four parts: the Call to Duty speaking tour; a gay soldier’s enlistment and service in Iraq; sit-ins performed by the Right to Serve Campaign; and a historical discussion that puts DADT into perspective. The latter is a much-needed balance to the work being done today to overturn DADT, which the rest of the film captures.

Despite the various statistics flashed across the screen throughout the documentary — 12,000 servicemembers discharged for being gay, 300 Arabic-speaking linguists since 9/11, 4,000 soldiers will not re-enlist because they’re gay — it’s the faces put to these numbers that make Ask Not compelling.

The two most engaging and fleshed out stories are Alex Nicholson and Jerrod Chlapowski, who started dating on the Call to Duty tour. Between visits to Jerrod’s parents and a follow up to the guys’ home a year after the tour, it’s nice to see activism grow into love. Perry, a pseudonym for the gay San Franciscan who decides to enlist to bring democracy to Iraq, is shown before and during his service, but between his blurred face and cheesy shots from his leave in Paris, his story is less interesting.

Using congressional testimony footage, Symons captures many of the flawed logics behind DADT, including the evolution of arguments made by supporters of the ban. The historical perspective added by Aaron Belkin nicely demonstrates the parallels between DADT and the segregation of races in the military.

Noticeably — and refreshingly — absent from the film is any mention of the national organizations working to overturn the ban. The only passing reference is when one former soldier says that there is a wide gulf between what Washington thinks and what the reality is. Symons tends to skate across the surface of his subjects, jumping quickly from one to another, but Ask Not is still an effective examination of one of the many ways gay Americans are still second-class citizens.

Ask Not
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