Vito: The Activist and the Film

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When he was a young man in the 1960s, Vito Russo wasn’t that different from a lot of young gay men in America. He left the suburbs for the city. He went to college. He paved his own path.

But there was one difference: While many gay Americans still lived in the closet, Vito was out, proud, and loud. He was an activist. In Vito’s own words: “I lived the life I wanted. I always did exactly what I pleased. Very few people can say that about their lives." 

That life included co-founding the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, also known as GLAAD. It also included co-founding ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). And of course, he wrote the seminal GLBT film studies text, “The Celluloid Closet,” which eventually became a Peabody-award winning documentary. The book details how homosexuals have been portrayed in Hollywood throughout the years, often in an extremely pejorative light.  

A new documentary, called “Vito,” takes a closer look at Vito’s life. It was directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and premieres on Monday on HBO. "One of my goals is to reinvigorate Vito's memory, and to put him back into the pantheon of gay and lesbian heroes, because I personally believe he's a great hero of ours, and a lot of our younger gay and lesbian people aren't familiar with this history," Schwarz says.

"Vito, from a very early age, knew there was nothing wrong with him, even though he was getting all of these messages from the culture that he was sick or twisted in some way, or he was being bashed by the church," Schwarz says. "Everywhere you looked, there were messages that gay people were sort of less than human. Vito never internalized any of that, and it really made him very angry. He wanted other people to be angry too."

The director believes that his documentary has broader appeal than just in the gay community. "I think this film is for everybody," Schwarz says. "I think anybody can identify with somebody who just stood up and wanted to be counted and made a difference in the world." 

Guests:

Jeffrey Schwarz

Produced by:

Robert Balint and Kristen Meinzer

Comments [1]

Angel from Miami, FL

I have short hair. I like my hair short so I cut it frequently. I used to have long hair but now it's short all of the time and I want Americans everywhere to know it! My short hair is the single most defining feature of my whole persona... um, not it's not. But I'm going to act like it is. I'm going to act like a short haired person to everyone. Maybe they might make a movie about me. Not me as a person but as a symbol of short haired men. While other men, short-haired or not, simply go about drawing no attention to their follicled craniums I am going to make it about my short hair. Really it's just about me, not my hair. I'm going to make this about ME.

Jul. 19 2012 04:18 PM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.