Where do I begin? I am still in such an emotional state that it’s a little difficult to critically think about what I just watched but here I go anyway.
A little Background:
The 2011 documentary, Vito, is a profound work of art that puts the life of activist, Vito Russo, on full display to honor his life and all of the noble work he did for his fellow man. When I say activist, I am holding that description to the highest of honor when connecting it to Vito. He was man who was a writer, a friend, a son, a cousin, a brother, a fighter, and a lover. Two other big parts of his identity were that he identified as a gay man and he was diagnosed with AIDS. Both of these identities caused him to become a courageous, angry, and diligent activist for the Gay Rights movements and later in his life, an activist for AIDS epidemic in the gay community though out the 80s.
Themes throughout this film that I will be writing on that had a particular impact on me are Anger, and The Arts.
-A photo of Vito yelling for change
“If you are going to talk about gay rights, you are going to talk about Russo.”
– Quote from Vito (2011)
When I think about the word anger, I know it is an emotion that most people try to avoid. It raises your blood pressure and can make you feel yucky inside. What if I told you that anger could get shit accomplished? See, we are taught (especially women) to not get anger and to suck it up. Well thank god Vito did not suck it up and he let his anger fuel his motivation to fight for gay rights. Being angry started a movement and with out anger, how are you going to get any where? Anger can be one of the most powerful emotions that one can possess and Vito used his anger to fight inequality and oppression until the day he died. The film depicted Vito’s anger so beautifully and it was one of the first things that had be captivated in the film. Anger is not seen as a weakness or something that needs to be pushed aside. In the film, it is praised and if you’re not angry about something, are you even living? Are you happy? I loved how the film depicted anger and how it was seen as a tool for change which is the opposite of how society sees the emotion of anger.
Anger is not ugly. Anger is profoundly motivating.
-An artistic photo of Vito covered in film tape
The arts are a huge part of the documentary and when I say the arts, I am talking about how the film itself used music and also how the arts were so important to Vito.
Usually when watching movies, you don’t really realize the background music but it is having an effect on your emotions without you even realizing it. For example, in a scary movie, you know something bad is about to happen when the violins start up. In this documentary, every time Vito Russo was being talk about or clips of him speaking were playing, the music in the background was extremely upbeat and I noticed it was making me smile. Music has a way of choosing how you feel about a certain character in a film. If the protagonist is on screen, the music is upbeat, smooth, and charming. If the antagonist is on screen, the music is in lower keys, choppy, and makes your stomach squirm.
The music in the film was most likely chosen vary carefully because this film is honoring one of the biggest gay rights activists in history. The film creators want you to smile when you see Vito. They want you to know he is the hero.
Leading into reflection of Vito, he was completely personally immersed in the arts. His life’s work was analyzing film, writing, public speaking, and hosting television. The arts was in his blood. His brother even made a point to talk about how nonathletic he was and how he never participated in sports. That’s because he found satisfaction in critical thinking, not throwing a football. Music and dancing are just as valid as sports.
Dancing became a huge outlet for the gay community because they would celebrate coming together. I have to connect this to the recent queer dance party that happened on Vice President Mike Pence’s front lawn. Pence publicly speaks out against gay rights and women’s rights and people aren’t having it in the most wonderful way. Dance brings people together and in mass quantities can send a specific message. We’re here, we’re queer, deal with it.
-Photo of party on Pence’s lawn
Without Vito’s unapologetic way of going though out life has paved that way for other people to get loud and get angry. Injustice needs to be fought. I thank you Vito Russo, rest in paradise.
Vito (2011) is a must see because it educates on Vito’s accomplishments, The Gay Rights Movement, Queer representation in film, and the AIDS epidemic. It will make you smile, laugh, cry, and most importantly it will strike a flame within your heart to be as much of a fighter as Vito was.
Shwarz, J. (Producer), & Shwarz, J. (Director). 2011. Vito [Documentary]. United States: Automat Pictures.
For more on the dance party that happened on Mike Pence’s lawn: