As Prop 8 trial winds down, artists work to bring issue back into spotlight
A same-sex wedding, officiated by Liza Minnelli, kicks off “Sex and the City 2,” but it is only a coincidence that the sequel’s opening at the multiplex comes just weeks before closing arguments in the federal trial over Proposition 8.
No matter. Several times during the testimony phase of the case, proponents of California’s ban on same-sex marriage have made the point that the gay community has the advantage of support from Hollywood.
And that support will play out in the coming weeks and months with an array of documentaries and other projects. If they don’t address the trial itself, they at the very least intend to keep the issue in the firmament.
Two days after the June 16 closing arguments in the trial, Red Flag Releasing will debut “8: The Mormon Proposition,” a documentary shown at Sundance that depicts a surreptitious role of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in raising money and organizing the push for the ban on gay nuptials, mirroring some of the testimony raised in the trial by Prop 8 opponents, who entered into evidence internal campaign e-mails and other documents.
The narrator of “8” is screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who grew up Mormon and who is also a member of the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group of entertainment figures and politicos led by Chad Griffin who are driving the federal challenge.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Del Vecchio, a filmmaker and former municipal court judge, has made a movie called “An Affirmative Act,” a drama in which two women are put on trial for posing as a straight couple in order to obtain a marriage license. The pic debuts at the Hoboken Film Festival next month.
In the works is a documentary called “The Lavender Scare,” directed by former “60 Minutes” producer Josh Howard, that chronicles the federal government’s hunt in the 1950s to purge homosexuals from its ranks. It’s based on a book by David K. Johnson that Prop 8 opponents entered into the evidentiary record of the federal trial.
The Equal Rights foundation is not backing any of the projects, but Griffin says they are “thrilled with any effort to bring this trial to the millions of people not in the courtroom.”
Ironically enough, what remains to be seen is whether there will be any video footage of the Prop 8 trial itself. A media coalition is pushing Judge Vaughn Walker to allow cameras in for the closing arguments, after earlier efforts to show the trial’s testimony phase via an online stream and to courthouses across the country were rebuffed by the Supreme Court.
It’s arguable the extent to which that camera ban actually limited coverage, given that reporters, bloggers and advocates on both sides provided real-time updates in the courtroom via text messaging and Twitter, which were allowed.
But some Prop 8 opponents fear that the video blackout stymied public interest.
That was a motivation behind a word-for-word online re-enactment of the trial produced by John Ireland and John Ainsworth, and was a trigger for a recently launched project by the Courage Campaign in which celebrities stage portions of testimony as a kind of street theater, with their short clips posted on YouTube. The first of these clips featured stars like Marisa Tomei, Cheyenne Jackson and Josh Lucas, but that is just the start. The intent, says Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs, is to organize and draw in average folks. Another phase of the campaign that will encourage people throughout the country to share their stories will be launched soon.
“Yes, it would have been much better to have this trial televised,” Jacobs says. “Regardless, we need to get the stories out in bite-sized pieces. … If we can find the money to hire enough organizers we can make sure that this trial is part of the American consciousness.”
Sharing that sentiment is Reed Cowan, the director of “8,” who says televised coverage “would have generated more attention to the movement.”
“I’m disgusted that the American citizenry has been denied hearing what has gone on in that courtroom,” he says.
His project, which was conceived before the Prop 8 case was filed and does not address the trial, argues that the Mormon Church masked the extent of its role in passing the proposition — through money and organizing — in order to make the message more palatable to the general public. And just as Prop 8 opponents asserted during the trial, Cowan lays out the argument that the church was driven by animus toward gays and lesbians.
The church has long called on First Amendment rights in defending its role in the campaign. It hasn’t had much to say about “8,” other than to issue a statement via spokeswoman Kim Farah: “We have not seen ‘8: The Mormon Proposition.’ However, judging from the trailer and background material online, it appears that accuracy and truth are rare commodities in this film. Clearly, anyone looking for balance and thoughtful discussion of a serious topic will need to look elsewhere.”
The documentary does feature a 2008 campaign training clip from a Mormon Website, PreservingMarriage.org, designed to show how best to discuss the proposition to friends and neighbors. It features two surfers walking along a beach, one of whom suggests that there’s more to same-sex marriage than what “Hollywood and everyone says.”
He adds, “I mean seriously, think about it. Is there anyone in Hollywood you would trust with anything important?”
We shall soon see.