Vito, a film that profiles the life of Vito Russo, a man who is considered by many to be one of the fathers of this country’s gay rights movement, launches Monday night on HBO.
Russo is perhaps best known for writing “The Celluloid Closet,” a book that focuses on gay characters – and their portrayals – throughout the history of cinema. In 1985, he cofounded the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) to monitor media portrayal of the LGBT community. Russo also hosted a New York City public access television show that addressed contemporary gay issues, which was the first program of its time.
In a time when homosexuals lived in secret and shame, Russo held a radically different attitude. (“I never once, not for a second, believed that it was wrong to be gay,” Russo said.) He took a leadership role in the gay community, devoting his life to advancing LGBT rights, all the way up until his death in 1990 from complications with AIDS.
“As time marches on, a new generation of LGBT youth is coming of age without knowing about pioneers like Vito Russo and how he made it possible for us to live proudly and openly in the world,” said the documentary’s director, Jeffrey Schwarz. “It’s my hope that this film will allow his work to once again move and inspire us all as we continue the battles that he once fought.”
I had the privilege of seeing an advanced screening of Vito at Outfest’s opening night gala. The film succeeds not only in showcasing Russo’s life, but also serves as a primer on the fight for gay rights in the United States in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Since Russo was so embedded in the movement, his story corresponds with the larger struggle in a seamless fashion.
I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I was not familiar with Russo prior to watching the documentary, but I immediately became a fan of the remarkable man. I left the theater with a better understanding of gay history, as well as a renewed commitment to my own activism.
I highly recommend tuning into Vito tonight on HBO at 9 PM. If you’re anything like my fellow moviegoers, you’ll find yourself laughing aloud at some moments, and shedding some tears at others. All people who champion equal rights owe it to themselves to become familiar with Russo’s admirable story.
Photo Credit: Massimo Consoli