You’re probably familiar with Pride Toronto and other popular, long-awaited festivals and activities that happen during the summer. But have you ever heard of a gay parade in the Arctic? Well, it just so happens that an unusual pride event in the capital of Canadian Nunavut spurred interest among two filmmakers and was the decisive spark in igniting a desperately needed discussion about LGBTQ rights within the Inuit community. The two directors set out to document and attend a small, but controversial pride celebration in Iqaluit and, in doing so, ended up uncovering the indwelling struggles and intricacies of indigenous life and telling a story whose disclosure was long overdue.
Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things focuses on the revolting and often overlooked effects of colonization, as well as how core beliefs and traditions have been abolished or wormed out of Inuit culture due to religious education. Collecting both informative interviews with non-Inuit experts and real, touching stories from persecuted inhabitants of Nunavut, the documentary provides a balanced perspective on the atrocious discrimination still present in the North. After witnessing the testimonies of former and current natives, it becomes apparent that parts of the Inuit past have been shunned or completely rejected as a result of Christian indoctrination – a term not used lightly, but candidly in order to accurately represent the reality of shaming an entire culture into negating and forswearing its roots.
“I knew that either I would just get to the point where I could no longer stomach the idea of waking up every day and would have taken my own life like so many youth in my community or one kid would’ve gone too far and just hit me too many times and then that would have been the end of it” – says Nuka Fennell, a former Iqaluit resident who was interviewed for the documentary. Although homophobia and prejudice are still widespread, most of us now live in an environment where same-sex marriage, pride parades and being openly pro-LGBT are relatively common and slowly becoming more accepted by society. But for Nuka, coming out was close to a death sentence in a region where queerness was taboo and all traces of homosexuality had been erased from history. As the film progresses, the urgency and necessity of discussing these issues becomes more and more palpable. Even within the LGBTQ community, knowledge of the Inuit past’s intersection with homosexuality seems to be scarce. And this is exactly why Mark Kenneth Woods’ and Michael Yerxa’s documentary is an imperative introduction.
The film’s title comes from what Inuit elders call “lesbian” and “gay” in their native language – translated ad litteram, the words mean “two soft things rubbing against each other” (for women) and, conversely, “two hard things rubbing against each other” (for men). The highlight of the documentary is the enriching interview with LGBTQ ally, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, an Inuk producer and director who studies the life of her people prior to the colonization. Her dedication and heartwarming message truly builds up the movie’s foundation and was, coincidentally, what prompted and facilitated the film’s genesis. Yerxa and Woods heard of Alethea in their research and finally decided to get in contact with her. It just so happens that the woman was in Toronto at the time, one block away from Yerxa’s apartment. As she was leaving the city the following day, she met with the two directors in the morning and shot the interview which got the ball rolling for the whole documentary. Inuits were covertly taught that they have to make a choice – they could either keep their cultural identity or their sexual identity. Alethea was the first to openly take a stand and show her people that they can choose both.
Woods and Yerxa have taken up a difficult task – this culture’s past and lessons are just breaking through the cracks of Canadian history and have only really been unveiled in the last two or three years. Despite its complex and poignant tradition, the heritage of Nunavut is still fresh and a complete novelty to the rest of the world. Due to this, the first half of the documentary resembles a history crash course at times and merely skims through the stories it lovingly attempts to convey. This is also due to the lofty travelling expenses required for shooting the film and the exceptionally short period of time the directors had at their disposal. As they put it – “We’ve got the basics and we’re scratching the surface. We hope that this motivates youth and filmmakers to go out and speak to their elders before it’s too late, to fill in the blanks, and find out more information”.
Two soft things, two hard things offered an enlightening and heartening peek into a world I knew very little about. Covering topics ranging from language and loss of cultural identity to the Human Rights Act and family structures in Nunavut, the documentary brings a vital piece to the puzzle of replacing shame with pride in the lives of LGBT individuals from all around the globe.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa