The film frames Dunlap and friends’ actions as a brave rebellion against the prevailing conservatism of the times. Contrasting footage of truly saddened protesters holding vigil after the Hardwick case with scenes of Dunlap’s fired up rhetoric, Claiming the Title makes it very difficult to feel apathetic about the conflict. It may have just been about a word — but it represented so much more.
A small subplot to the main events involves an insider profile of justice Harry Blackmun, who voted in favor of progressive causes, despite having conservative feelings himself. Chai Feldblum, an out lesbian who served as a Supreme Court clerk during the case, is on hand to discuss her experiences with the Justice, including the day she actually came out to him. It’s a nice, unexpected side story in an otherwise very focused short film.
Despite the emphasis on a court case and the presence of some mild “legalese," the movie is entertaining and emotionally moving throughout. The production values are top-notch, and the quick pace assures that this particular slice of history is brief, brisk and effective.
The interviews go a long way in making the case come alive. Keen offers excellent community insight and in-the-courtroom recollections, while athlete Susan McGreivy (who was an Olympic swimmer) gives her own perspective on the importance of the games. Maureen Mason is particularly moving with her true insider perspective — as Dunlap’s wife, she went through it all.
If there can be any criticisms, it’s the subject’s potential for over dramatization. Surely, the queer community at large understands the importance of language and the words we use to describe ourselves, but many folks without proper context could easily look at the legal battle and shake their heads in confusion. There is much ado about one little word, and in a time when GLBT people are now fighting for marriage rights and the ability to serve openly in the military, fighting vehemently to use a name seems almost silly.
This is a privileged viewpoint, of course, from a time wherein the GLBT population has made serious inroads. All the hard work put in twenty years ago paved the way for these larger issues to even have a chance of being discussed.
It’s a heartening remembrance of just how far we have come — and a sobering reminder of how far there is to go.
Clearly, this was an overlooked yet important moment in gay rights history, and one that is tastefully and poignantly highlighted in Claiming the Title. It’s a short, sweet, complete documentary, filled to the brim with the sort of insights that younger members of the community would benefit from learning.
Learn more about the film at ClaimingTheTitle.com