HBO Spotlight, Vito Russo (July 2012) – In the latest list of compelling documentaries from HBO, Vito explores the life of Vito Russo, one of the founders of the gay rights movement. Russo’s activism began on the night of June 27, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. The police raided the bar, a common practice at the time for LGBT establishments, riots erupted in the Greenwich Village neighborhood, beginning a brand new chapter in the movement. Russo was only 23 at the time and was motivated to seek justice for his fellow demographic.
Vito was a pivotal player in many of the gay rights movement and organizations during the formative years. As an early member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), whose goal was to secure basic human rights, dignity and freedom for all gay people; also co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), formed to ensure accurate media representation of gays and lesbians. Near the end of his life, Vito also co founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), an activists group with a goal to bring medical research, treatment, policies and legislation to eradicate the AIDS epidemic.
Russo, an accomplished journalist, befriended actress Lily Tomlin who supported his work as a writer and activist. His love of movies led to a job at the Museum of Modern Art‘s film department where he began taking note of gay characters in early film. The result of his research The Celluloid Closet, a film that is not only an informative lecture, it also combined Russo’s love of show business and politics. The film explored how gays and lesbians were portrayed on film, the lessons these characters taught gay and straight audiences and how the negative portrayal of gays and lesbians was perceived in society.
“Everything I’ve done I’ve chosen to do. This is the life I wanted. I’m one of the very few people I know who can say I never did anything I didn’t want to do, and I always did exactly what I pleased. Very few people can say that about their lives.” Vito Russo
Until his death in 1990 from complications related to the AIDS virus, Vito was one if the most outspoken and inspiring activists in the LGBT community’s fight for equal rights.
The inspiring documentary VITO debuts Monday July 23rd (9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
Director and producer Jeffrey Schwarz won a 2007 AFI Fest Documentary Audience Award for Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, about the Hollywood showman. He is currently in production on I Am Divine, an independent feature documentary about John Waters’ muse.