Movie Reviews

Move Review: Outrage – Tabloid Fodder or Necessary Evil?

Written by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering
Directed by Kirby Dick

Over the years I’ve heard the comment that if all the gays and lesbians were kicked out of Washington DC, our government would shut down.  Whether the statement is accurate or not, one cannot deny that the business of running the country is a tough one, and not always conducive to the family environment, especially when you consider that they are often on call 24-7.  However, it seems that it’s not just those we don’t hear a lot about who this statement could be applied to.

Outrage is a controversial film in many ways.  Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick focuses this 2009 documentary on politicians in Washington who are outwardly critical of the gay and lesbian population of this country, if not downright hostile and contemptuous of them, yet are hiding the truth about their sexuality back in the closet. They are portrayed as being the most vicious toward legislation and rights for other gays and lesbians as a way of deflecting attention from their own sexuality.

The film opens with the tape of the arrest of Idaho Senator Larry Craig in the bathroom at the airport in Minneapolis.  That sets the tone for the film. Next interviewed is former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. I can’t say for certain whether or not he would have been elected had he been honest about his sexuality, but I think the bigger issue that caused him to resign was the actions he took trying to cover this up, rather than his sexuality,  He does make the point about people being true to themselves.  His wife also is interviewed and talks candidly about what it’s like to be on her side of this mess that she never asked for.

This brings the focus back to Craig and how he’s lived in the closet his whole life.  It’s essentially a double life and the explanation is the stress from leading that double life makes one do crazy things.  There’s vintage footage of Larry Craig as a Congressman vehemently trying to put to rest any questions of his sexuality in 1982 during the Congressional Page Scandal as well as testimony from those who were involved with Craig.

The case of Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist is up next.  He was “outed” during the election race by his opponent.  It’s a charge he and his camp still deny, all the way to the point that he has remarried.  This part goes a long way to showing how even opposing candidates bringing up what they know of their opposition’s sexuality can be a no-win scenario since being homosexual has so much baggage with it that the person who brings it up during a campaign can be seen as just using it as a smear tactic, even if it’s the truth.

Michael Rogers is a blogger who has made it his mission to “out” those who are in the closet and are hostile to any gay rights advances.  Whether that is ethical or not depends on who you speak to as both sides weigh in.

As I watched this, I had many mixed feelings.  On one hand, that is these people’s own personal demons to deal with and part of their private lives.  There are families that are devastated by these allegations, whether founded or unfounded.  On the other, if a person can’t even be true to themselves, how can they honestly represent the people who have elected them? Politicians have been “outed” for years for other scandals such as affairs and the like, why should this be any different?

I’m not sure how I feel about it in general, but the film makes a good case that we need to know when this is happening.  One of the ways it does so is by going back to look at the Reagan administration and how it treated the AIDS epidemic while Terry Dolan, who led the National Conservative Political Action Committee, was frequenting gay bars in Washington DC and counting on their culture of secrecy at the time to protect him from any stigma. I can see how gays and lesbians would be angered at that – he’s propping up the very people who are saying that AIDS was a punishment from God and then coming to New York City and dancing in gay clubs on the weekends.  One quote by someone who knew of his actions at the time was “He’s raising money to kill us..”

Quite a bit of screen time is given to members of the Republican Party who are out of the closet.  They speak candidly about their feelings of betrayal by those they know of who are gay in their own Party and still in the closet yet pushing and anti-gay and lesbian agenda.

It’s not just Republicans as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is talked about, but the ones being shown here are primarily Republicans, including Louisiana Representative Jim McCrery.  This is largely because they are the party with the most to lose, having embraced the “morality” of the Religious Right.  Just look how well that turned out for Ted Haggard and the like.

Director Kirby Dick and Producer Amy Ziering discuss whether it’s right to “out” someone the way they do in the commentary and they touched on a lot of the misgivings I had about it. There were times while watching this that I felt uncomfortable with what they were doing and other times when I could see the point they were making.

Interviewed for Outrage are Kevin Naff, Editor of The Washingon Blade; Dan Popkey of The Idaho Statesman; Ambassador Jim Hormel; Washington DC City Councilmember David Catania; Elizabeth Birth of Human Rights Campaign; Dan Gurley, a former field director for the RNC; Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic; Congressman Barney Frank; Bob Norman of the Broward-Palm Beach New Times; Larry Kramer founder of ACT UP; Wayne Barret of The Village Voice; and many more including members of the Log Cabin Republicans.  I particularly was interested in the reflections of Rodger McFarlane who was the first paid Director of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis back during the early days of the AIDS epidemic and one of the founders of ACT-UP.  Shortly after this film was made, McFarlane committed suicide.

There’s a tribute to McFarlane among the DVD extras which is pretty extensive.  The commentary is there along with several Q&A sessions at screenings of the film and deleted scenes.

After watching this and reflecting on it, I realize that unfortunately films like Outrage do have to be made.  It’s actually no different than any other lie a candidate or elected official tells that they need to be called on.  If they back legislation that punishes people because of their sexual identity simply because they themselves are afraid of being found out, that is particularly heinous.  I’m really surprised this film didn’t get more attention and more awards, but then I think it has to do with the taboo topic of outing people who are in the closet.


• Commentary with Director Kirby Dick and Producer Amy Ziering
· Deleted Scenes
• Rodger McFarlane Tribute
• Tribeca Film Festival Q&A with Kirby Dick, Larry Kramer, Michelangelo Signorile, and Rodger McFarlane
• Director Q&A at Washington, DC Screening

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