There are no shortages of glimpses during Ken Kwek’s #LookAtMe (★★★★☆), in which an American viewer will feel as though they are gazing into a mirror that is as unforgiving as it is frightening.
Based on true events, the drama follows the consequences endured by a small, happy family — two brothers and their mother — after they refuse to yield to public harassment and state-motivated discrimination stoked by a popular evangelical pastor.
In Singapore, despite significant advances in LGBTQ rights, the country still technically bans same-sex activity between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code — not unlike the now-defunct Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the United States.
The Section has been widely criticized as unenforceable — indeed, there have been no convictions under the law since 2007 — but it remains a stalwart and potent symbol of the country’s struggle to reconcile the necessity of expanded human rights in a new era with the stubborn anti-LGBTQ mindset of the past.
This is the context for the story of two brothers — one gay, one straight — who are raised in a loving home and, like so many young people their age, must navigate the bridging of two very different eras in how LGBTQ identities are perceived within the country.
Sean Marzuki (Yao) is invited to a church service by his girlfriend Mia (Shu Yi Ching) to meet her parents and decides to bring along his brother Ricky, who has apparently been openly gay long enough that it’s clearly not a topic that causes significant friction within the larger community.
But it is during this church service that Pastor Josiah Long (played expertly by Adrian Pang) goes on a stomach-churning rant against LGBTQ rights while Ricky, Mia, and Sean watch in horror as her parents cheer it all on.
Sean, incensed that his brother was forced to listen to such hateful bullshit, posts a video to YouTube that ruthlessly mocks Pastor Long’s homophobia with clever video editing, including a mimed sex act with a My Little Pony toy that is clearly intended to highlight Long’s hypocrisy.
He is then arrested under a half dozen obscenity charges and copes with a horrific incarceration while Ricky and their mother Nancy (Pam Oei, who steals every scene she’s in) undertake an advocacy media tour to educate the public on the country’s enduring homophobia.
The pendulum nature of the global LGBTQ rights movement is on breathtaking display here, affirming how far the world has come, the progress that’s been made, while starkly acknowledging the formidable vestiges of hatred and hypocrisy that continue to hold back LGBTQ families.
American viewers will easily see themselves in #LookAtMe as every character is all too familiar to anyone who has been witness to the destruction caused by evangelical extremists.
#LookAtMe closes the in-person festival at Landmark’s E Street Cinema on Sunday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m. ($15 at the door) and is available in the virtual festival through 11:59 p.m. Click here for details.
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