DVD REVIEW: "OUT IN THE OPEN"
Back in the early '60's, there existed a series of misguided (and creepy, too) short films with titles like "Boys Beware", warning youngsters and their parents about the dangers of predatory homosexuals. Today, we can look at those so-called "PSA"'s and recognize them as so laughable that even hardcore homophobes would be hard-pressed to take them seriously today. But make no mistake: The hateful intentions of these short films, reflective of the prejudices at the time, were very real and very serious in their day. "Out in the Open", the lively new documentary from actor/producer Matthew Smith, opens with a parody of these anti-gay shorts, shot in black- and-white with the same kind of brooding, Big Brother-type voice-over used in the vintage ones back then. "Out in the Open" is 2013's colorful, hopeful, and far smarter answer to the homophobic propaganda of yesteryear. The film blends both common sense and educated theories with the stories of real people from an extensive spectrum of LGBTQF's and their allies. This movie is about, as the title proclaims, being "out in the open". Yes, we've come a long way, baby.
However, as "Out in the Open" points out, there's still a L-O-N-G way to go. The daily news stories of bullying and gay youth suicide is a sad reminder of that. For every family who accepts their relative coming out, there's another child who is rejected. For every equal rights ordinance that passes, there is someone who gets fired for their sexual orientation. And (as several of the interviewees point out), despite no less than an explosion of LGBTQF visibility in the media and news, the relationship between and the media is... well, let's just say, "It's complicated!" "Out in the Open" features several well-known openly gay personalities, including adorable singer Josh Strickland, Olympic diver Greg Louganis (now 53 and silver-haired, but still handsome), and the always amusing Carson Kressley. Kressley tells the story about how he came out to his mother practically moments before "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy" was about to hit TV screens (Her reaction? You may be able to guess!), as well as his own story about knowing that he was "different" as a child, lusting for Lee Majors ("I knew there was something "wrong" with me-- but I wasn't sure what it was. I knew the other little boys in the first grade weren't into 'The Six Million Dollar Man' like I was... so I definitely knew I was 'different'!"). A great deal of the film is devoted to the story of director Matthew Smith's own life pathway: his coming out experience (In one provocative moment, he recalls coming out at 15 and going back in the closet by age 16, due to bullying.), his love story with his soft-spoken boyfriend Solly Hemus, and his current life with his accepting family and friends. He gets intensely personal, sharing some of his childhood stories that aren't pretty; rather, they are quite painful to listen to. Nonetheless, Smith offers some very keen insight on the issue of sexual abuse. He also opines, "You can't expect every straight person to know what's going on in (our) community. We have to change it from a fight to a talk... Everyone just needs to get on common ground and have a conversation. That's what needs to happen!" The director continues to go through great lengths to include a VERY wide variety of out and proud LGBTQF's (The relatively new "F", in case you're wondering, is for "fluid", for those who refuse to classify their sexual orientation with any one word.) to share their stories. We meet artists, athletes, a politician, a religious leader, a teacher, and many other hard-working young activists-- particularly from a group named Lifeworks Youth Program. A potpourri of ages, races,and lifestyles are represented. Even more admirable is Smith's inclusion of many of our straight allies: the parents and friends of LGBTQF's. They include actors Eliza and Eric Roberts, parents of a gay daughter; and Patrick Burke, co-founder of You Can Play, dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports (Patrick is the brother of the late openly gay hockey player Brendan Burke.). Ultimately, Mr. Louganis summarizes the issue of LGBTQF equality-- the core message of the film-- when he asks, "Wouldn't it be great if it was a non-issue?"
"Out in the Open" should be mandatory viewing for parents, friends, and supporters of LGBTQF's who really want to get to know the human side of the struggle for equality. Many lovers of queer cinema may view the film as "preaching to the converted", believing that anyone who watches the movie probably already espouses its message. However, it's a much-needed, "kick in the butt" reminder of how far the LGBTQF movement has come... and how much further it still needs to go.
"Out in the Open" is now available on DVD. Visit www.BreakingGlassPictures.com for more info.