It’s probably unavoidable that Larissa Behrendt would end up working in social justice. In the aboriginal Australian household she grew up in, the subject of human rights was omnipresent. At the same time, she understood on a deeply personal level the hypocrisy a narrow view of equality can cause.
“We talked about our rights but tolerated anti-gay attitudes,” she says from Sydney, where she lives. “Two of my favourite uncles were gay and struggled due to the homophobia within the community. This wasn’t even a rights issue for me. It was a family issue.”
Behrendt’s film Clan looks at the life of one young man in exactly this situation. Gay and aboriginal, James is rejected by his family but struggles to navigate the queer world, ultimately finding salvation with a local gay rugby team. Told as a sort of flashback, it’s a highly stylized chronicle of his journey to self-acceptance.
“It seems bizarre to do a biography on someone who’s so young, but it felt like he’d already lived several lives,” Behrendt says. “I was spellbound when he told his story. The fact he’s so handsome didn’t hurt, either.”
The piece is part of a larger body of work, a career really, in promoting human rights. In addition to her filmmaking, the Harvard-educated lawyer has published several novels and books on social justice, including the cheekily named Indigenous Australia for Dummies. She says being part of a historically marginalized group made her passionate about gay rights, particularly Australia’s battle around marriage equality.
“When we talk about discrimination against indigenous people, we often talk about how our lives were so regulated, where we could live, if we could work, whether we got to raise our own children and whether we could marry,” she says. “Interracial marriage was prohibited in some places. We look at that and say, How badly were we treated? The aboriginal community should be the strongest supporters of marriage equality.”