Friday, August 18, 2023

My Weekend Crush

Well, I’m back from vacation, but am I back back? Yeah, not really. But I am back enough to recommend a documentary I watched over my break that will remind you how important it is to share LGBTQ+ history through the ages. Honestly, stories like “Nelly & Nadine” are one of the reasons the Right Wing fascists fights so hard to censor what is taught in our schools. Because if you teach people about the genuine love, bravery and talent of everyday LGBTQ+ people, it will be so much harder for them to get people to hate us. And then who could they scapegoat to win elections?

Pretty much anyone who watches the love story between Nelly Mousset-Vos, who was a celebrated mezzo soprano, and Nadine Hwang, who ran a well-known LGBTQ+ literary salon in Paris, during World War II would never approve of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill or banning books that acknowledge our existence. The two women met when both were imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. The story goes, Nelly was singing to the other prisoners on Christmas Eve 1944 when a voice in the crowd asked for a song from “Madame Butterfly.” That voice belonged to Nadine, who was born to a Chinese diplomat father and Belgian mother. Both Nelly and Nadine were in the camps as “political prisoners” for being part of the resistance (but I am certain being gay didn’t help, either). So they were also a real-life pair of fruity war heroes, so take that DeSantis.

It was in that most desperate place that the women fell in love and started a relationship that would last for the rest of their days. Their love story is told through the eyes of one of Nelly’s granddaughters, as she discovers her grandmother’s history when she finally goes through the boxes filled with personal diaries and archival footage that was left to her several decades ago. Told in a mix of Swedish, French and a tiny bit of English, the documentary is an intimate glimpse of queer life and joy well before the LGBTQ+ rights movement started in earnest with Stonewall.

In fact, the home films Nadine took are a reminder that we have always been a part of society, it’s just that society used to demand we keep ourselves hidden away behind closed closet doors. Now, much to the Right Wing’s continued chagrin, more and more of us have abandoned the closet altogether and refuse to hide in fear. They really hate that.

While watching I found myself getting greedy and wishing the documentary had used even more archival footage, because those glimpses were so real and alive. The women had been separated during the war with Nelly shipped to another camp. After both were liberated, they found each other again and lived the rest of their lives together in Venezuela. Their home movies show they found good gay friends there who became part of their chosen families and vibrant inner circle.

The other thing the documentary does is remind straight people how easily they’ve overlooked us queers throughout history. Nelly’s grandchildren never realized the nice older hapa woman who was their grandma “roommate” was actually her romantic and life partner. Which, oh straight people.

Honestly, if I had the money I would option the rights to Nelly and Nadine’s story, because love stories don’t get much more epic — gay or straight. I would love to watch that movie, but at very least folks should check out their documentary on Prime Video. We have always been here. You just had to notice and care. Happy weekend, all.


Helena said...

Thank you so much for telling us about this documentary.

Kristan said...

Wow, what a story. Just added it to my Prime watchlist. Thanks!

Carmen San Diego said...

Wow that’s amazing
Gonna watch it this weekend

Anonymous said...

I saw this recently & completely agree with your recommendation — an amazing story on several levels

Anonymous said...

Just finished watching the documentary, and was really moved and sorry when it ended. What an amazing pair and how courageous they were to just go on living their lives as if there were nothing to be ashamed of. Just goes to show how shame and fear can twist and distort something beautiful - thank goodness they didn't let that happen to them and that Nelly's grand daughter shared their story! So much to be grateful for!