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|Eight months after the May ’09 release of Outrage, his third documentary with prominent gay themes
(Twist of Faith, This Film Is Not Yet Rated are the others), filmmaker Kirby Dick is still outraged.
That's not just because the subjects of his latest film – ostensibly closeted politicians voting against
their own kind, the shameful history of this practice and the question of outing itself – are still blithely
moving forward, thanks to a pass seemingly given them by the mainstream media. Also because
many in the mainstream media reacted to the film with kid gloves – going so far as refusing to
reveal the names of some of those profiled in the documentary in their coverage (which seemed to
reinforce the message of the movie).
Then, just as Outrage was coming to DVD the media watchdog organization for our community,
GLAAD, bypassed the film in its list of nominations for the year’s best documentary because they
didn't want to “glorify a movie about people who run from who they are” – an oversight that quickly
brought a disgruntled response from members of the LGBT media. Dick, who issued a statement
countering GLAAD’s cagey explanation (which they then responded to), was ready to give Windy City
Times in an exclusive interview, an update on that situation, the history of his passion for gay
injustice (he’s straight), and a lot more. Excerpts:
WINDY CITY TIMES (WCT): What’s up with this GLAAD situation?
KIRBY DICK (KD): I was actually kind of hurt by that. I had interviewed Neil Giuliano the former
Executive Director of GLAAD. He’s in the film and is very supportive of the film and makes some very
strong arguments about the closet and GLAAD nominated This Film Is Not Yet Rated for a GLAAD award
and I thought…
WCT: A slam dunk, right?
KD: Well not just a slam dunk but, “we’re fighting for the same cause here, side by side.” So I was
just so surprised that they decided to not really even consider it. That was kind of a blow. I mean an
award’s just an award but it felt like your friend didn’t invite you for dinner or something.
WCT: And the response about why they didn’t consider it was so disingenuous.
KD: Yes – if there ever was a film that was eligible this one met their criteria to a “T.” I think it was
a number of things which I don’t want to speculate on too much. But certainly one of them, I’m sure,
is that some people that were uncomfortable because there were obviously some gays and lesbians
in the film that are not portrayed in a positive light because they shouldn’t be, of course. But on the
other hand, too, this is all about the heroism and persistence of gay journalists and gay activists over
the last two decades. This is really an untold story as far as the mainstream media is concerned and
these people are heroes to me and to a lot of people.
WCT: There was also this bizarre hesitancy on the part of the mainstream media to name names in
the film when you did press for the film originally. I seem to recall that one of the reasons given was
that your sources were not considered valid because their connection to the person in question was of
a sexual nature.
WCT: Do you want to talk a little about sourcing for the film? Was that problematic?
KD: No, not really. I’m very confident, 100% confident in my sources. I think with the exception of
perhaps Shepard Swift from Fox News, we met all the standards of having multiple sources – the
appropriate journalistic standards. With Shepard Swift, true, it was only the editor of the Washington
Blade but you’re taking an editor of a paper. I mean, I’m going to take his word for it. I don’t think
there was any question about the film journalistically at all. I think it had much more to do with this
issue of discomfort over reporting on this hypocrisy. It’s even addressed in the film.
One of the people in the film made an interesting point – she was a commentator on CNN – I just
can't remember her name at the moment. She made the comment that a lot of her straight friends
make the mistake of not reporting on this kind of hypocrisy thinking they’re doing the gay and
lesbian community a favor when in fact it’s just the opposite. For a number of reasons – one, if this
hypocrisy is not reported on it continues and this is why it’s continued for decades because the
mainstream press hasn’t reported on it and secondly, there’s this feeling that if you report that
somebody might be gay or lesbian without them having come out themselves, that someone there’s
something negative about that and you don’t want to harm those people so you don’t say it. The
hidden message this carries is that there is something wrong about being gay. One of the
indications that they’ll be 100% equality in this country is when every issue surrounding gays and
lesbians – good and bad – is reported on in the same way that the straight issues are.
WCT: It seemed like the mainstream media ignored many of the accusations made in the movie. I
seem to recall Charlie Crist was in the news at that point but no one seemed to link him to the film.
KD: Well, yes and no. One of the strategies of making this film was I felt that by making a high
profile documentary the press was going to have to deal with this in a way that they had never dealt
with it before. The reason was because the entertainment press would actually be less concerned
about reporting on the names that were reported on in the film. It’s always the more political press
that has been very careful on that side. In fact, that’s exactly what happened. The New York Times,
the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, I think ABC News at one point actually did report and
name names but a there were a lot that didn’t – NPR, the Washington Post, etc. But that’s a
breakthrough. I knew this whole issue of how the media covers this would be open for debate and
NPR came through (laughs) with a shining example of being regressive on this issue. The great
thing is that the NPR thing happened at such a perfect time. It just proved the argument about it in
the film. The strategy worked to a fairly large degree. The other thing I have to say is that in doing
interviews for the film the reporters themselves have really seen that it’s the right thing to do to
report on this hypocrisy but the decisions are being made higher up the ladder that has prevented
that from happening.
WCT: Reporters said this to you as you did press for the film?
KD: Yes they did. They would basically say, “The decision isn’t up to me” in such a way that I
gleaned that if it was up to them they would report the names. “We’re reporting on a film that’s very
well documented. In any other kind of situation we would report these names even if we wanted to
qualify it by saying, ‘The film itself claims’” which is what they would do in any other film. So yes, in
so many words they said that to me.
WCT: Does this have to do with a comfort level?
WCT: It’s ironic – because I’m sure so many of these reporters probably think you’re a gay man.
Obviously at some point you reached a comfort level with gay people.
KD: Early on. My parents were always liberal. I wasn’t brought up with any kind of homophobia per
se other than the homophobia that exists in society and certainly that was a part of me but when I
was in high school my best friend came out to me and I’m actually very grateful for that experience.
All the questions and issues that I might have or any residual homophobia was dealt with –
oftentimes in very long conversations at night about everything. And then of course being in the
arts, it’s just such a non-issue.
WCT: Can we please talk about the late, great gay activist Rodger McFarlane who is prominent in the
film and is beautifully memorialized in the DVD’s special features. I love the biographical section but
even more the post Outrage screening Q&A he conducted with you and Larry Kramer and
KD: I remember saying goodbye to him and less than a week later he committed suicide. From
everything that I can glean from that he was in real pain. From my perspective here’s a man who
has lived his life exactly the way he wanted to so it’s no surprise to me that he chose to die in exactly
the way he wanted to. It’s sad that he’s no longer around but in some ways I kind of admire the fact
that he had control of his life and his death in a way.
WCT: This is the third film that really touches on gay subject manner – why the passion for the
KD: My films seem to be all very different in a lot of ways and very eclectic and I never really had an
answer when people would ask me what united them until this one when I realized that I am very
interested in outsiders and the position of being an outsider. And I think hopefully that will change
and change soon for gays and lesbians but I think there is an element of that – of seeing the world
and experiencing it in a very profound way obviously very different than the mainstream. I think
that's part of the reason. Secondly, I’ve always wanted to include sexuality in my films whenever and
wherever possible. So, hey? (laughs) It’s right there.
WCT: Well, sexuality is such a huge part of film which people overlook. You basically are sitting in a
theatre objectifying somebody else in the dark.
KD: Exactly – it’s an erotic experience. The audience is similar to a masochistic position or
masochistic scene vis-á-vis the screen because they’re sitting in a chair and it’s dark and they’re sort
of locked there and they have to sort of be submissive to whatever comes their way. It is an erotic
situation and it’s no accident that sex and violence are an important part of any narrative structure
including film. The other thing, too, is when you’re in the arts it seems like there’s this constant
crossover between gay and straight sex. One quarter of the people in the arts are gay, maybe
more? Whenever you’re talking to people you’re talking back and forth from these two different
perspectives and try to kind of meld them and so I think that just seems like a natural thing to
WCT: What would have been your Oscar speech if the film had been nominated?
KD: I’d invite Larry Kramer – who I think is one of the great activists of the last hundred years – to
come up in my place. He exemplifies what an activist is for me.
WCT: What are you working on next Kirby?
KD: I’m working on some pretty aggressive stuff but I can’t really talk about it because I don’t want
them to get a heads up that I’m coming their way.
WCT: Okay, good – go get ‘em!
KD: Will do. (laughs)