(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reverend's Interview: Actor Bares All

Reports of young men and women who have committed suicide because they were bullied and harassed about being gay or lesbian have dominated the news in recent months. These tragic incidents have inspired Long Beach-based actor Bruce Hart to share his own experience as a victim of gay bashing. Hart has also more recently found himself at the center of a controversy over a Georgia high school teacher's stand on behalf of GLBT students.

Dave Dixon taught drama at Haralson County High School in Tallapoosa, Georgia for four years. He was suspended this October after showing a 2007 short film entitled The Reckoning. Hart appears in it as the administrator of a Gay & Lesbian Center who is abducted and tortured by two thugs for being gay. Parents who heard about the screening complained to school administrators. In early November, Dixon was fired by the school board, ostensibly because he showed students a film containing objectionable language without parental permission. "During this time of so many kids hurting themselves over bullying, I thought it would be a good subject; I was wrong," Dixon said.  (The Reckoning can be viewed online here.)

Hart was very disturbed to hear about a pro-gay teacher being fired over a movie in which the openly gay actor appears. The situation has also resurrected for Hart the conflicting feelings he had in the wake of being gay-bashed 15 years ago. He has decided to share his experience publicly for the first time with Reverend, in the hope it will be of benefit to young GLBT people.

"For a long time, I've denied that I was gay-bashed," admits Hart. "I just said, 'Oh, I was mugged' or that kind of thing." The actor had just parked his car one night in Long Beach after attending a voiceover class in Hollywood when a gang of six homophobic men attacked him without provocation.

"I hopped out of the car and thought, 'I think I left the lights on'," Hart recounted. "I turned to check that and heard this loud crash, like something hitting something, then I heard something shatter." He knows now that the first sound was the impact of a metal pipe striking his head, followed by the hand in which he held his car keys hitting the ground.

"It was so forceful, and I must have fallen back and hit my head right on the sidewalk," Hart said. All the while, the men called him gay slurs, and one of them threatened to cut Hart's throat with a knife. "These guys were definitely out to hurt me, for sure; they may have seen me and my then-partner out together in the neighborhood." Hart continues to have memory problems as a result of the trauma to his head.

He went to the emergency room after the attack and initially told the police it had been a hate crime. The police responded, "We have to hear their (the attackers') side of the story." Hart also overheard a nurse tell a derogatory gay joke to the patient in the next bed over. "It was like a nightmare, like a Fellini movie; It was so degrading," Hart says. After that, he began denying that the attack had been a gay-bashing, not even telling his family or friends. He realizes now that was a mistake, but fears he may have been treated worse by the police and hospital personnel at the time had he told the truth.

It wasn't until he auditioned for The Reckoning a few years ago that the incident started coming back to him. "Often actors go blind on auditions and don't know what they're auditioning for," Hart said. "So I went in and read and went 'Oh, it's about gay bashing; Wow, this is serious' and next thing I know I got the part." He was reluctant to take the role initially because of his own experience being attacked. "I finally decided that if somebody is offering me a job on a movie, I'd better take it."

Dixon, had heard about The Reckoning and thought it would be good to show his drama students during their school's "Tolerance Week" this fall. "He showed less than a minute of the film to his classroom," according to Hart, "and one of the students went home and told his parents and, from what I've been reading, the teacher was immediately suspended." Dixon was fired a few weeks later.

The situation has been a sobering one for Hart, not only because of his cinematic and real-life roles as a victim of gay-bashing but as a reminder that discussion of GLBT issues remains so risky in some parts of the US. It has led Hart to reflect more on his personal experience as well as the responsibility that actors have in the arts and larger culture.

"I moved to Southern California because I wanted to do voices for cartoons," Hart revealed. The actor is originally from "a little town in northern Michigan." While in college, Hart came out to Los Angeles on vacation. "I just knew I had to move here," he quickly realized, "so I went back and said 'I'm going to figure out a way'." A year later, he quit his job and drove to California. Hart has since lived in Long Beach "off and on" for 20 years, acknowledging that a couple of long-running plays he produced necessitated temporary moves to LA.

Homewrecker is the first feature film Hart has produced. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Vander Roest, based on their play Naked Deception, and Hart plays a significant role in the comedy about a stardom-obsessed prison parolee (adult entertainer-turned-comic actor Dylan Vox) who will do anything — and anyone — to make it big in Hollywood. The movie is now available for purchase or rent on DVD from Ariztical Entertainment and Netflix. It can also be purchased online from Target, which is somewhat surprising given the film's gay content and plentiful male nudity.

"We were very lucky our first time out as filmmakers," Hart says. "To have hit all the major festivals last year and to get a distribution deal; it was so easy." Hart is also proud that Homewrecker was something of a family affair. His brother, Paul, directed the movie.

Hart is now looking forward to making other movies through his own production company that reflect gay life, although he prefers doing so in a comical way. After what he's been through, who can blame him?

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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