Pride Month Spotlight: Vito

“Enormously entertaining… Incisive and illuminating. This emotionally powerful documentary…is the stirring testament he deserves.” – The Hollywood Reporter

“Hugely moving and even more inspiring.” – LA Weekly

“I highly recommend it to anyone interested in pop culture, in civil rights, or in how the two are deeply connected. Through his story, ‘Vito’ becomes not just a biography but a history of his times, as a fight against discrimination became a fight for life.” – Time Magazine

“Involving… vibrant. A dramatic focal point in the history of gay rights.” – Variety

 

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On June 27, 1969, a police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar took a surprising turn when patrons decided it was time to fight back. As a riot erupted outside the Stonewall Inn, a new era in the Gay Rights Movement was born. You know the story.

Vito Russo, a 23-year-old film student, was among those in the crowd the unforgettable night. Over the next twenty years, until his death from AIDS in 1990, Vito would go on to become one of the most outspoken and inspiring activists in the LGBT community’s fight for equal rights.

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In the midst of his involvement with Act Up and the fight against AIDS, Vito was also a prolific writer. His seminal book The Celluloid Closet explored the ways in which gay and lesbian characters were (most often subtly) portrayed on film, what lessons those characters taught gay and straight audiences, and how those negative images were at the root of society’s homophobia.

Even before the book was published, Vito was taking The Celluloid Closet on the road, traveling to gay film festivals and college campuses for an entertaining and informative lecture/ clip show that intertwined Vito’s love of show business and radical gay politics. He continued writing, lecturing, speaking out and acting up until just months before his death.

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Directed by award-winner Jeffrey Schwarz (I Am Divine, Tab Hunter Confidential, The Fabulous Allen Carr), Vito paints a galvanizing portrait of this outspoken activist in the LGBT community’s struggle for equal rights, using period footage and film clips to capture a vibrant era of gay culture. It’s simply a must-see.

Vito is streaming right now on Dekkoo as one of our Pride Picks. Make sure you check it out if you haven’t seen it already! 

DEKKOO DISPATCH 028 – ‘VITO’

Title – ‘Vito

Director – Jeffrey Schwartz

Release Date – 2011

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Today we at Dekkoo are paying tribute to Vito Russo: activist, author, academic, film fanatic, and most importantly a friend and father-figure to every LGBTQ member of our community. Jeffrey Schwartz’s 2011 film ‘Vito‘ is a stirring tribute to this legendary trailblazer of queer cinema and HIV/AIDS activism.

Growing up and browsing the shelves at Blockbuster I’d always walk by a tattered old looking DVD entitled ‘The Celluloid Closet’. Once I finally had made my way through most of the sexy films I’d been dying to rent I finally checked it out one night. The amount of queer stories that had to be hidden underneath various guises through time was sobering of what I had been accustomed to given my young age. ‘The Celluloid Closet’ was based on Vito Russo’s novel of the same name published in 1981 with the subtitle “Homosexuality in the Movies”. It woke people up to queer tropes like the predatory lesbian and the sissy homosexual. Vito truly believed that these tropes were perpetuating the oppression of gay people and that media needed to change in order for society to change. Vito wasn’t just sitting at home writing though. He went on college tours lecturing about his work and about queer cinema in general.

After publishing ‘The Celluloid Closet’ Vito Russo went on to form the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. That’s right, Vito Russo formed GLAAD! They’re the ones that to this day keep a very close eye on everything happening in media around the world and hold them accountable for their actions. And as much as I get annoyed with how much they hit me up for cash, they’ve done some great stuff like issuing a Studio Responsibility Index that ranks the major Hollywood studios by the quantity, quality, and content of LGBTQ representation in the films they produce.

Vito also left a big imprint on HIV/AIDS activism in the 80s through his involvement in the Gay Activists Alliance & ACT UP, his creation of a gay TV series called ‘Our Time’, and his participation in the 1989 Academy Award-winning documentary ‘Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt’. He told the story of his lover Jeffrey Sevcik who passed away from his battle with AIDS. The directors of ‘Our Time’ are Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman. Besides directing masterpieces like ‘The Times of Harvey Milk’ and ‘Word is Out’ they also were the ones to lovingly direct ‘The Celluloid Closet’ after Vito had passed away from his own battle with AIDS.

I’ve left you with a very basic skeleton of what Vito Russo did with his life, but when you watch ‘Vito‘ you’ll actually see his whole body and hopefully see even deeper.

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Watch it with:  A group of friends who appreciate gay heroes!

Mix it with: Beers!

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