Watching 'Pride' in Russia: Defying Moscow's Anti-Gay Law

The British comedy is the first gay-themed film to be released in Russia since 2013.

Pride, a British comedy about the unlikely collaboration between striking mine workers and gay activists in Northern England in the summer of 1984, has finally made it to Russia.

The themes of gay pride, with inspirational imagery of gay men fighting against discrimination, make Pride a dangerous film in Russia. Legislation signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2013 makes “gay propaganda towards minors,” defined as any positive depiction of a homosexual lifestyle to those under 18, a crime.

Since the law was adopted two years ago, anti-gay protestors have disrupted several screenings of films with LGBT themes. In late 2013, Vitaly Milonov, a St. Petersburg-based politician who was one of the principal sponsor of the anti-gay legislation, pushed for a boycott of Cannes winner Blue is the Warmest Color, the last LGBT film to screen on general release in Russia.

Before Pride, that is. Sam Klebanov, co-founder of independent distributor Arthouse, said he was determined to get the film into Russian cinemas.

“It's really cool to show the film in Russia which boldly goes against the grain of the official homophobic propaganda and does it in such playful and heart-warming way,” he says. “At the Moscow premiere, people were ecstatic. They gave it a big ovation.”

To comply with the Russian “anti-propaganda” law, Pride had to be rated 18--plus, the most restrictive rating for local theatrical release. In comparison, Pride was rated 15-plus in the U.K. and received an R rating from the MPAA. Elsewhere in Europe, the film was released as a 6-plus, the equivalent of a PG rating. 

Arthouse CEO Yan Vizinberg said the tipping point for the company in bringing Pride to Russia was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal across the country.

“The topic (of gay rights) is white-hot right now,” Vinzinberg said. “As the Western world is becoming more liberal about same-sex marriage, Russia is rolling back to the dark ages with its anti-gay propaganda law.”

So far the film's release had gone smoothly without any protests. 

"So far we've had no trouble with the film,” says Vinzinberg. “Apart from some angry comments on social media from the people who haven't seen it. The reactions from the people who actually have seen the film are overwhelmingly positive."

That was definitely the case at the afternoon screening of Pride that The Hollywood Reporter checked out at a theater in central Moscow.

"I didn't come to see the film because of its gay theme," said Tatiana, a woman in her mid-50s. "I just thought it could be interesting, and it actually was, and quite funny."

Other viewers, however, declined to talk to THR, suggesting being loud and proud about gay rights is still a risky proposition here.

And while the film has been released, the restrictive rating appears to be impacting the box office. There were only two dozen people at the afternoon screening in Moscow, in a 165-seat-theater. On its first weekend, Pride grossed just $4,100 in 16 theaters across seven Russian cities.

Despite that, Klebanov said Arthouse will continue its roll out, and plans to add another seven cities soon.

"It's an amazing film, which makes people feel good,” said Klebanov. “And the Russian audience needs it more than ever."