When the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence canonised Derek Jarman


Born on the streets of San Francisco in the late 1970s, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI) is a gay rights group known for their subversive use of religious imagery – and, in particular, donning Catholic nun attire to upend gender norms, protest oppression and satirise moral hypocrisy. The short documentary Saintmaking profiles the London ‘order’ of the SPI, a radical activist organisation whose members, by the time of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and the HIV/AIDS crisis, were ‘really, really, really sick of being nice to people’. Marco Alessi’s film combines new documentary and dramatised footage with archival material to show the London SPI performing a canonisation ceremony in 1991 for the filmmaker and gay rights activist Derek Jarman, who died of AIDS-related illness in 1994. While ostensibly tongue-in-cheek, the ritual was also a powerful act of protest for the SPI members, who made a point of venerating and touching an HIV-positive gay man at a moment when greater society seemed to be ignoring and even chastising their community as it suffered.