Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me review – a beautiful and moving protest against homophobia | Television
SSince he came out at the age of 19, in a sweet and open video revealing he was in a relationship with a man, Olympic diving champion Tom Daley spoke out in support of LGBTQ+ rights and causes. He’s used his platform to speak passionately about his drive to inspire young queer people and support queer athletes around the world – from his post-gold medal press conference at the Tokyo Olympics to his Alternative Christmas message on Channel 4 Last year. Now, with Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me (BBC One), he tries to get to grips with the fight against homophobia in sport.
Daley did not take part in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, but he is using the opportunity to push. There is anti-gay legislation in 35 of the 54 Member States participating in the Games. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. Daley begins the film with a simple, albeit crude idea: that countries with anti-LGBTQ+ laws should not be allowed to host the Games. He plans to visit some of these countries to meet with LGBTQ+ athletes and public figures – as well as many who remain private out of fear for their safety – to find out what their lives are like in an environment deeply hostile to their very existence.
He travels to Pakistan to meet people who request different levels of identity scrambling before recounting their experiences. A woman, a cricketer, explains that she is considered “a mutant”. She asks that her name not be used. Another woman completely conceals her identity and an actor tells her story of terror, beatings and self-loathing. A now-hidden pop star recalls a ‘gay as shit’ photo shoot that led to a national scandal. Daley explains that he wanted to go to Nigeria, but was advised against it, although he speaks on the phone to a locked up athlete, who tells him about a friend who was lured to death on a dating app. met.
I’m generally wary of celebrity movies about complex issues like this. As an athlete and vocal activist for LGBTQ+ rights, Daley has more skin in the game than most, but he still has his limits. Daley is careful to acknowledge his privilege as a British white man, at regular and respectful intervals, but the title is pretty indicative of who the draw is supposed to be. Daley talks about his own struggles coming out of the closet, with unaccepting family members, hateful posts online and bullying at school. While it sometimes feels Daley-heavy or unevenly weighted in that regard, it also makes perfect sense that it’s the trade-off. Daley, if not the the darling of the nation then surely one of them, is the title, the gateway to a difficult and often heartbreaking documentary that shines a light on the stories of others. He’s open to discussion and changing his mind, and it feels like many viewers will learn from him. It’s an oddity, in this polarized time, that this is not a polemic and that Daley is willing to engage in conversations that educate him and illuminate his developing opinions.
This is best exemplified in his trip to Jamaica, where he meets a British-born athlete competing for Jamaica, who wants to do the interview in a secluded location, and talks about his fear of not looking good enough. “masculine” when he is on the street. But he also meets Carla Moore, an academic whose research examines the links between homophobia and the slave trade. Daley expresses her guilt and shame over Britain’s colonialist legacy, but she has little interest in indulging in it. “It’s level one,” she said. “Level two is, now what?” She urges him to meet with activists in Jamaica to find out more about their work, taking him away from the pointing finger. This paints a much more rounded picture.
The “what now?” That’s where this movie works best. While at first Daley wanted to ban countries with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation from hosting the Commonwealth Games, he learns from athletes in those countries that they feel it would be punitive and exclusionary; it is suggested that homosexuals could even be held responsible. Instead, they want to see the pride flag fly and feel the protection of this symbol of security and hope. Clearly, Daley has contacts, and anyone who saw his 2022 Opening Ceremony appearance will know what happened next. It’s beautiful and very moving. “I only see this as the start,” he says.