Acting on homophobia

A Cork artist who suffered abuse for holding hands with her then-girlfriend in a city bar, was inspired to put the homophobic experience into a poem and film, writes SHAMIM MALEKMIAN
Acting on homophobia

PROUD: Alana Daly Mulligan has combined her talent for writing poems with her passion for filmmaking and has launched her film ‘Hands’

“WHAT makes us worthy of verbal attack for something as small as holding hands?”

That’s a question Cork artist Alana Daly Mulligan asks in her new poetry film, Hands.

The 19-year-old UCC student of Arts, has combined her talent for writing poems with her passion for filmmaking to strikingly highlight a “persistent” social issue: homophobia.

“I wanted to make poetry an engageable art form, to hit the audience hard and turn my poem into something completely different than what you would read on a page,” Alana says.

In Hands, Alana tells the story of a personal heartbreak that took place last November at a bar in Cork city.

“Myself and my then-girlfriend were sitting at a bar holding hands, and a guy came up to us and told us to move and started waving his arms at us, and we were devastated because it was our first relationship, and we had just started dating,” she says.

“We don’t want to see you f**king queers here,” the man had told the young couple.

Alana says what pained her the most about the incident was the relentless disillusionment that the presence of homophobia brought into her world.

“Waving his arms erratically with disgust at our subtle display of love, we wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt that era 2017 couldn’t have one like him wondering around,” Alana reads from her poem.

The young filmmaker says she had falsely believed the marriage referendum had heralded the end of homophobia in Ireland.

“But obviously it is still in some people’s head that it [homosexuality] is wrong and sick,” she says.

A recent survey revealed that 25% of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBT) regularly grapple with bullying and homophobia.

Hands is a love poem, but I also wanted people to understand that being LGBT is not all sunshine and rainbow, and this is the reality we still face,” Alana says.

“I know I’ve been very fortunate because I have friends that have been attacked and assaulted because of their sexuality, but I suppose little things can hurt as much as the big ones sometimes, and that is the point of Hands.”

Alana has gotten an “overwhelmingly” positive feedback from people who’ve watched her film so far.

Alana Daly Mulligan
Alana Daly Mulligan

The young poet, who lives in Victoria Cross in Cork city, is no stranger to being applauded for her art. Her debut poetry film My Great Aunt Chrissie won the best writing award at Dublin’s NOISE Flicks Film Festival last year.

An outspoken social activist, Alana had spotlighted the issue of women’s rights in Ireland in her debut film.

“I love history, and I ended up going to our family tree and found out about my great aunt, Chrissie. So, she had gotten pregnant at 19, and they sent her away to a mother and baby home in County Waterford, and she gave birth to the child and died there,” she says.

“No one in our family had talked about her.”

My Great Aunt Chrissie is Alana’s ode to Irish women who had gone through abuse and neglect, yet their stories no one recalls.

“We have a habit of burying our mistakes, hiding our history behind famine walls so thin, so tall, never thinking about the fall, damning our women, high morals, high crosses, high horses, Government hiding behind confession boxes,” she reads from My Great Aunt Chrissie.

Ben Kavanagh, a 19-year-old filmmaker and director of photography for Hands, says poetry films are the way to go when it comes to captivating the audience.

“Film is the closest thing you get to the real life; it gives you a sense of reality that I don’t think words do,” he says.

“So, film and poetry make an interesting combination.”

Both Ben and Alana have been awarded the Active Citizenship Undergraduate Scholarship as part of UCC’s Quercus Talented Student Programme. Each year, UCC awards the non-academic financial grant to young people who demonstrate “exceptional contribution to citizenship or community leadership”.

“Since I was about eight years old I did a lot of volunteering for fighting youth cyberbullying and different things,” Alana says.

“I also got involved in youth politics and travelled to the European Parliament in Strasbourg and represented Ireland there.”

Ben, whose short film Word of Mouth has won the best film award at Youghal’s First Cut Film Festival, and Limerick’s FreshFilmFestival, says he has received the scholarship based on art activism and the films he has made from a very young age.

Word of Mouth is the story of an undercover Garda detective who interrogates students of a rural school by posing as a Leaving Cert oral examiner.

“I try to use comedy to highlight issues because I think comedy sticks with people,” Ben says.

Aside from films, Alana has had another accomplishment before reaching the age of 20: having her poem published in Kathy D’Arcy’s women-led anthology Autonomy earlier this year.

“It was insane, the poem was published, and it was like my poem with the work of two of my idols Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Claire Hennessy,” she says smiling.

Autonomy, published in the midst of the country’s Eighth Amendment campaigns, is a collection of literary works aimed at highlighting women’s bodily integrity.

I spoke to Alana the day after the Eighth Amendment was repealed, she was tired but ablaze with hope.

“Films and poetry can change the world, I’m so proud to be Irish today, but our constitution still needs a bit of rewriting, and I’m going to make sure that happens.”

Cork artists interested in collaborating with Alana may contact her through https://www.instagram.com/alana_minx

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