Review: “Outrage”

Forget Spock, Transformers and the guy with the metal claws: Nothing says "Summer Movie Season" like a documentary about closeted gay Republican politicians, right?

Opening this week in limited theatrical release, Outrage tackles the "profound conspiracy that works to keep politicians in the closet" in this country.

With a laser-sharp focus on a handful of men who live secret gay lives while maintaining a public image and voting record of social conservatism, the movie’s single question appears to be, "Do the people who make our laws have the right to privacy, if that privacy allows them to live lives contrary to their policies?"

Even though the stories told in Outrage aren’t terribly shocking or breaking news for those of us who regularly follow gay news in politics, the film nonetheless is a solid and well-packaged treatment of the subject. And it’s one that for the most part, hits home a message of inclusion, acceptance and understanding.

The structure of Outrage is simple: Starting with Senator Larry Craig (the film begins with a recording of his police interrogation following his airport bathroom arrest), the film neatly and thoroughly outs a half-dozen men whose professional efforts in promoting an anti-gay agenda are at direct odds with the fact that they secretly have sex with other men, often while maintaining marriages to women.

Senator Larry Craig

Using some firsthand accounts of former sexual partners, old campaign footage (to occasionally humorous effect) and commentary from gay political media watchdogs, the film makes the case for each man’s homosexuality, and presents his lifetime gay rights voting record. In each instance, the disconnect is staggering.

The usual suspects are all there: Craig, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, former New York mayor Ed Koch, former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, former Rep. Ed Schrock, even dusty McCarthy relic Roy Cohn. Again, if you’re reading this review, then you’re likely no stranger to gay media, particularly gay online media (which is credited in the film as being one of the few places where these scandals are openly discussed) and none of these men is an unfamiliar candidate for speculation.

But Outrage also spends time discussing the phenomenon of the Washington closet itself, using interviews with activists and journalists including Michael Rogers (BlogActive), Michelangelo Signorile (SiriusOutQ), Larry Kramer, Rodger McFarlane (founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis), Kevin Naff (Washington Blade), Andrew Sullivan (The Atlantic), and Neil Giuliano (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), as well as openly gay politicians Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin.

Looking at the lineup, it’s probably safe to say that Outrage is the gayest theatrically-released documentary to hit screens since The Celluloid Closet. And while the subject at hand is men (and a few women) who are at odds with their alleged gayness, the discussion is led and carried almost exclusively by intelligent and well-spoken gay men and women of conviction and character.

Outrage also makes a strong and unapologetic case for the efforts of gay activists who out closeted politicians, a far from popular stance that the traditional media is generally too scared to touch.

Kirby Dick at the Tribeca screening of Outrage

Perhaps some will find it surprising that Outrage comes not from the "gay media elite" but from heterosexual filmmaker Kirby Dick, whose lively This Film Is Not Yet Rated similarly took aim at an institution that stifles same-sex representation, the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board. Dick has been quoted recently as saying that "the gay rights struggle is the most important civil rights issue of its time in this country and it affects all Americans."

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