FIRST GAY ACTIVIST FILM
DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS
Germany. 1919. Silent. B&W. 50 min.
Original title: Anders als die Anderen
Dir. Richard Oswald
Cast: Conrad Veidt, Fritz Schulz, Reinhold Scheunzel, Magnus Hirschfeld
Script: Richard Oswald and Magnus Hirschfeld
Different from the Others has a gripping plot, but in fact it was primarily shot with the intention of educating the public. The film presents homosexuality as a normal human tendency, and seeks to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by gay people forced to live in the closet. Way before Stonewall, Germany saw the first upsurge of gay activism on a big scale. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, who popularised the term ‘Uranians’ to refer to homosexuals, gave a public speech for gay rights to the Congress of German Jurists as far back as 1867. Feminist activist Johanna Elberskirchen published a pamphlet on defence of homosexuality in 1904, one of many German articles and books, scientific studies, and letter-signing campaigns at the turn of the century. The movement to repeal paragraph 175, which outlawed sex between men in Germany, was lead by Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld, who had set up a lobby-group called the ‘Scientific and Humanitarian Committee’ in 1897. Hirschfeld, who co-wrote the script of Different from the Others together with director Richard Oswald, did so much to raise the profile of gays and lesbians that the first gay resource centre in Ireland was named after him for that reason (‘The Hirschfeld’ Centre, in Dublin’s Temple Bar, also housed the first gay film club in the country).
One of the treats of watching Different from the Others is to be able to ‘listen’ to Dr Hirchfeld himself, who appears in the film counselling a young man afraid of his own homosexuality, and delivering a moving speech about gay self-respect and the need for straight support, while demanding the repeal of paragraph 175. As a homosexual Jew, Hirchfeld was doubly targeted by the Nazis, who burned down all traces of the German gay-rights movement. Thankfully this film survived – thanks to a copy found in 1979, badly damaged, so that the final scenes had to be reconstructed from stills. Different from the Others is not all about politics, it is also an effective thriller about a respected gay musician who becomes the victim of blackmail. And there are some unforgettable images; for example, one of the arguments of the gay movement was that many famous and respected historical figures had been ‘different’ like us, and the film shows them all marching on a line that stretches from ancient Greece to the present day.