In September, the U.S. Embassy in Russia will sponsor the Amfest film festival in Moscow and St. Petersburg, spotlighting American independent cinema. On Friday, the Hollywood Reporter noticed an interesting addition to Amfest’s lineup: I Am Michael, a gay-themed film about a gay rights activist man who tries to become straight.
Amfest’s decision to include the movie is quite notable, since screening it in Russia is almost certainly illegal. Under the country’s “homosexual propaganda” law, it is a crime to expose minors to any positive depiction of gay life. Because I Am Michael contains such a depiction, it’s probably criminal to show it in public. Enforcement of the law has been inconsistent when it comes to Western movies—the very gay Pride has been screened without issue—but Amfest’s willingness to show the film is still a bold move.
Presuming the embassy signed off on all this, the inclusion of I Am Michael is pretty clearly a political move. The Obama administration has vehemently opposed Russia’s law, and the president himself has spoken out against anti-gay measures in other countries. A screening of a tepidly reviewed gay Western movie isn’t as much of a statement as was, say, including openly gay athletes in the Sochi Olympics delegation. But it’s a sly, heartening way to support equality in a country that is increasingly brutal toward its gay citizens.