BLUE NOW Neil Bartlett on 30 years of change

Jenny Mascia
WordsNeil Bartlett

BLUE NOW” is a series of live performances and six pieces of writing inspired by quotes from “Blue,” British artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman’s seminal 1993 film, created as he was dying from AIDS-related illnesses.

Taking his cue from the quote above, author and director Neil Bartlett reflects on what has changed in the 30 years since the release of his friend’s film.

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I caught myself looking at shoes in a shop window. I thought of going in and buying a pair, but stopped myself. The shoes I am wearing at the moment should be sufficient to walk me out of life.
Derek Jarman

When Derek wrote this in his diary, the world was a very different place. In 1993, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS was a death sentence; the disease was incurable. And there was another sickness that seemed incurable in my home country of Britain, 30 years ago; homophobia. I can remember being shouted at, spat at, because I was gay. I can remember the waves of hatred in the newspapers and on the television. I can remember the fear. My husband and I had just met, but even when we were courting, we never held hands in the street, because it just wasn't safe to do that.

Most of all, I remember how it seemed sometimes that all of the fear and hatred was never, ever going to change.

Well, I was wrong.

Things did change.

HIV became a treatable condition.

Me and my friends—and that included Derek—demonstrated, argued, and protested. First, we got the law on the age of consent changed. Then we fought for equal marriage rights. Step by step, year by year, we cleared the way towards homophobia being the exception, not the rule, and for full civil rights for everyone in our communities.

Without even noticing that it was happening, I even learned how to walk without fear.

And so now, 30 years later, when I think of Derek looking in that shop window and deciding that there was no point in him buying new shoes, yes, I grieve for him. I grieve for all the loves and lives that were lost in those years, but most of all, I think about how things have changed.

I think about walking in others' footsteps, about how things didn't just change like the weather changes, but because Derek, me and all of us made them change.

I think about how these days, my husband and I do hold hands in the street, and nobody spits at us or even notices.

Neil Bartlett

British author and director Neil Bartlett has staged works in some of the UK’s most prestigious institutions, including The National, Bristol Old Vic, and the Lyric Hammersmith, where he served as artistic director from 1994 to 2004. He was appointed an OBE in 2000 for his services to the arts, and was later awarded an honorary degree by Brookes University Oxford for advocacy for gay culture and civil rights.

Each year, WePresent invites a creative to be its Guest Curator. In 2023 we are very proud to collaborate with brilliant actor and podcaster Russell Tovey on a handful of very special art-related projects on themes close to his heart. "BLUE NOW" is the first in this series.

The animation on this page was directed and illustrated by Jenny Mascia, and 3D animated by Alice Aires.

Blue (Derek Jarman, 1993) © Basilisk Communications Ltd., enquiries regarding Blue by Derek Jarman should be addressed to