Although the documentary “Outrage” focuses on present-day politicians and the battle for gay rights, there’s a reason why director Kirby Dick decided to cede the film’s final scene — and its last word — to the late Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay people elected to public office in the 1970s.
“There’s something very inspirational about the vision of this man from 30 years ago saying that this whole debate would be over if everyone just came out,” Dick says. “I find it sad that, three decades later, we’re still having this discussion, and there’s still a need for this film. I’m appalled that all Americans still don’t have full civil rights.”
Barney Frank, Jim McGreevey, David Catania, Larry Kramer, Michelangelo Signorile, Andrew Sullivan, Elizabeth Birch, Hilary Rosen
(Magnolia Pictures; US theatrical: 8 May 2008 (Limited release); 2009)
According to the argument that Dick lays out in “Outrage,” some politicians have backed anti-gay legislation despite their being gay — and the national news media has played along, failing to report on their hypocrisy.
“Outrage” dares to name names, alleging that politicians of various degrees of power — including Idaho Sen. Larry E. Craig, California Rep. David Dreier and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist — have supported bans on gay marriage, gay adoption and AIDS-support bills from the relatively safety of their closets.
Dick acknowledges that a lot of the material presented in “Outrage” has already been reported elsewhere. Craig’s arrest for soliciting sex in a Minnesota airport bathroom made national news, and rumors of Crist’s homosexuality were stirred in an article by Broward New Times reporter Bob Norman who interviewed two men alleging to have had sexual relationships with Crist. (Crist’s office did not respond to phone calls from The Miami Herald asking for comment.)
“If you follow politics closely, there are a lot of things in this film that you already know,” says Dick, whose previous films include “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” an expose of the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board, and the Oscar-nominated “Twist of Faith,” about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
“But 95 percent of the people who have seen ‘Outrage’ are more stunned by this subject matter than any other film I’ve made,” the filmmaker says. “That’s why I think it’s so important for this film to get out, because once the discussion gets started, it’ll be harder and harder for politicians to stay in the closet.”
Dick, who is heterosexual, says he originally set out to make a film about the process of outing. But as he began his research, the subject of closeted politicians took precedence.
The director also insists that “Outrage” is nonpartisan, even though most of the officials it alleges to be closeted happen to be Republican.
“The only reason it’s mostly Republicans we focus on in the film is that the Republican party is the one that has focused on these anti-gay issues and forced a number of its gay politicians deeper into the closet,” Dick says. “It was a very cynical strategy on their part. George W. Bush is not homophobic: He has gay friends and gay staff himself. It’s reprehensible that he decided to go after the rights of millions of Americans for his own political gain.”
The Bush administration’s failed attempt to pass an amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as exclusively male-female is one of the topics “Outrage” examines. The film also uses interviews with former and present out politicians, such as ex-New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, to explore the pressures that force some politicians to remain closeted against their will.
“McGreevey was extremely candid, frank, not only talking about the pain of being in the closet but also the political calculation that goes with protecting the closet,” Dick says. “He told me, for example, that even though he was personally pro gay marriage, he opposed it publicly, because he was afraid people would think he was gay if he supported it.”
“Outrage” also explores how the mainstream news media has, for the most part, declined to investigate the private lives of allegedly gay politicians. Last week, the editors of the National Public Radio Web site deleted the names of Craig and Crist from a review of “Outrage.” Author Nathan Lee responded by removing his byline from the piece. Dick Meyer, NPR’s executive director of Digital, told indiewire.com that NPR has “a long-held policy of trying to respect the privacy of public figures and of not airing or publishing rumors, allegations and reports about their private lives unless there is a compelling reason to do so.”
“It is ironic that the very subject matter of the film — the very thing we are critiquing — is repeated by NPR in a story covering the movie,” Dick says. “Some news organizations have calculated that their main readership is primarily straight, and they’re afraid that reporting on gay sexuality will offend them. Other outlets are owned by corporations that have a lot of business on Capitol Hill, and they don’t want to offend a powerful senator or representative with what might be an embarrassing story.
“But it’s the responsibility and obligation of a journalistic outlet to report on these things,” Dick says. “If there was a straight politician who was trying to pass a law on adultery while having an affair himself, no one would have a problem reporting that. I don’t know why NPR made this decision, but I think they should be called upon to explain it. Especially since in the past, they have reported on the sexual orientation of celebrities based solely on rumors. It seems to me that it’s more relevant for a news organization to report on the sexual orientation of powerful elected officials than celebrities.”
Dick says the paucity of reporting on this issue, along with the downsizing of investigative staff at newspapers, opened the door for filmmakers like him to don the role of journalist, albeit with a clearly visible agenda.
“This film is in no way intended to impact the career of anyone,” Dick says. “The intent is to inform the public about this issue and to encourage both present and future gay politicians to run as out candidates, because it’s better for them personally and professionally. Many of their constituents would be very happy to have a politician who is honest with them.”