(The Washington Jewish Film Festival started May 18 and wrapped up on May 28. We have a smattering of reviews headed your via way local resident and lead HtN critic, Chris Reed. First up, The Freedom to Marry which will be released in the U.S. and Canada via Ro*Co Films June 6 on VOD and across digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.)
From documentary producer/director Eddie Rosenstein (School Play) comes an inspiring tale of remarkable achievement by a group of people who would not take no for an answer. A profile of the good folks who led the movement to legalize gay marriage, The Freedom to Marry follows the principal players, their helpmates and constituencies as they build their case for equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation. Among a large cast of heroes, three stars stand out: Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry, the non-profit organization formed in 2003 to promote the cause embedded in its name; Marc Solomon, the campaign manager of that group; and Mary Bonauto (of GLAD), the brave woman who successfully argued the case in front of the United States Supreme Court in 2015, a follow-up to her previous winning performance before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, in 2003, that led that state to earlier legalize same-sex unions. They form the quite the team, and our nation owes them the same debt we owe the civil-rights pioneers of prior eras.
Rosenstein starts the story in the days just before the Supreme Court’s ruling (issued on June 26, 2015). After a brief introduction to some of our understandably anxious protagonists, we then jump back 102 days, before heading further back in time to the 1980s, and then even before that to the 1970s. I love how Rosenstein handles these transitions through time, briskly cutting back and forth with sharp on-screen graphics as our guide. As we learn, the modern push for same-sex marriage began (slowly) in the wake of the Stonewall riots and the outrage that the perpetual crackdown on gays and lesbians engendered in those communities. Still, it was a long journey from intent to result. Wolfson came of age at this time, when homosexuals were largely regarded as perverts deserving of hatred and shame (or worse). Fortunately, he was a man of singular purpose, and when he came out, in college – disappointing a family that had hoped he would become the first Jewish President, though that family remained supportive – it was with a belief that there was nothing wrong with being who he was. And then, for his thesis at Harvard Law School, he wrote a paper in which he laid out the legal roadmap that he and others would take, more or less, on their subsequent journey towards marriage equality. As he quips at the end of the film, “It only took 32 years!”
Wolfson would be the first to admit that this was a group effort, and Rosenstein spends equal time with Solomon and Bonauto, telling us their own stories of coming out and eventual acceptance, as well. Bonauto is the very definition of cool and grace under pressure. While cameras are not allowed inside the Supreme Court, we later get to hear the audio of her question-and-answer session with the Justices, and marvel at her poise. After all, though the groundwork had been laid beforehand, she was up there all by herself. But Solomon and his team deserve an enormous amount of credit for the thoughtful and amiable way they approached the challenge of convincing a country that in 1996 had supported the “Defense of Marriage Act” that now, less than 20 years later, it was time for the opposite decision. They did this through the simple act of conversation, believing that talking to people and showing the human side of gays and lesbians – and their families – would lead most Americans (those not consumed by religious bigotry) to convert to their side of things. Which they did. Change the court of public opinion, and the legal courts will follow.
It’s a powerful story, though one cannot help but feel sad at the end, post-decision, to see then-President Obama speak so eloquently about the event, realizing all that we have lost since then after the 2016 election. Let’s hope we soon return to an America of hope and progress. May films like Rosenstein’s and people like Bonauto, Solomon and Wolfson show us that way forward.
– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)