The equality battle still rages on. Profile pictures all over the internet are red with an equal sign showing viral activism for the right to marry whoever. Viral activism is the result of years of activism by the closeted, cornered few that turned into many. Now with a few clicks it’s OK to want these equal rights, it’s almost expected in the more liberal generation, but before that there was oppression. An entire group of people were assaulted for being themselves in a land that proudly boasts freedom – an irony that the naysayers of the country still don’t get. One of the biggest activists that brought this uprise was Vito Russo who helped stop gay oppression, then spread it further, then pushed on to publicise the cruelties of an ignoring government with the ’80s AIDS epidemic. An activist whose life was to be an activist – no matter what he conquered, there were other problems he deemed that needed solving.
Beginning with the introduction of Vito Russo, the film gathers pace with the police raid in 1969 on the Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar which took a surprising turn when the people fought back for the first time. This could be the real source of the stifled homosexuals’ liberation which is still active today. Whereas it is more accepted, there are many horrendous inequalities and prejudices that plague western society – marriage being one the most prevalent for now. Vito Russo wasn’t just an activist but a film critic, film historian, and a prominent figure of Queer Theory in film, author of The Celluloid Closet, the first book to really explore the subtextual references or blatant references of homosexuality within films. Fitting that his documentary be an absolute brilliant piece of filmmaking.
Succeeding in a documentary usually comes from information that’s important enough to promote and eternalise. Vito has this, considering that a lot of it feels like information that had faded into obscurity, but a man as important as him needs his story to be told. Vito’s image is an important one to remember, like a banner of gay liberation, he’s a banner for all sorts of freedom. It’s proof that anyone who has courage to change the world can. Bravely beginning a brouhaha about revolution in a time where people were revolted by homosexuality, bashing it relentlessly. Making voices heard, making changes happen, putting all else in front of himself. Inspiring change was his agenda, but now, with this documentary, he is an inspiration.
Accentuated by great archive footage of Vito, of the films within The Celluloid Closet, and interesting newspaper snippets in a very powerful scene of obituaries, this film becomes provocative and interesting. Seeing the man outside of a talking head interview is interesting when he’s rallying the people on a stage, rallying the people in the streets, hosting his TV show, or lecturing; it’s all brilliant honest footage. The talking head interview is even more interesting than most because of how open he clearly is. All of the words spilling out of his mouth lyrically and profoundly paint the picture of a positive man pushing positive points for change.
Refreshing because of its inspiration that one man can do anything if the passion is burning powerful enough. A passion that Vito clearly possessed in a lot of different areas when actively seeking to make the world a better place. This documentary helps immortalise a man with a message of freedom, change, and achievement – one which may have been forgotten. Some of the talking heads seem disingenuous as well as a little contradictory at times – his brother says his parents were supportive, yet his cousin said his dad was uncomfortable with it. Other than that, the documentary is a well carved vehicle that’s an inspiring tale to do what you love and that anything you may deem abnormal is normal because it’s natural. “How can something so natural be wrong?” muses Vito about his homosexuality, a powerful point that should be respected, a mantra for the discriminated.