When the made-for-television movie Prayers For Bobby first premiered on Lifetime TV in January of 2009, critics and audiences alike were profoundly moved by this powerful and tragic real life story of a mother’s misguided attempts to change her gay son.
Based on the book, Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son, Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Sigourney Weaver stars as Mary Griffith, a religious 1970s suburban housewife who can not accept the fact that her young son Bobby is gay; in his pain for acceptance, he takes his own life.
It’s a powerful movie about love, loss, and eventual redemption, and now, Prayers For Bobby is available on DVD for the first time.
The movie was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards. (Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Weaver for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.) Weaver was also nominated for a 2010 Golden Globe Award, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award. The film won the 2010 GLAAD Award, and the producers were nominated for the 2010 Producers Guild of America Award. The film won the Audience Favorite Award at the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
With the TV movie now available on DVD, a whole new audience will have the opportunity to see this heart wrenching and ultimately inspiring TV film, so RadarOnline.com spoke with one of Prayers For Bobby’s Emmy nominated Executive Producers, Daniel Sladek.
In a sweeping interview, we talk about everything from the powerful message of the film — to how the media portrays the LGBT community — to why so many gay actors remain in the closet to this day.
Radar: Prayers For Bobby first aired on Lifetime in 2009, but it’s only now coming out on DVD. Did all the recent media attention on anti-gay bullying play a role in the movie’s very timely release on DVD, or had it been planned for a December 2010 release for a while?
Daniel: It had been planned before all the media attention on gay bullying, which unfortunately is nothing new. The media has just been focusing on it more of late. We are fortunate that our film is now available on DVD at a time when it can do the most good.
Radar: Have you had the opportunity to keep in touch with the real family behind this powerful story?
Daniel: My producing partners David Permut, Chris Taaffe and myself continue to be in close contact with the Griffith family. They are an incredibly warm, welcoming family, and we couldn’t be happier to have them in our lives.
Radar: How are they doing?
Daniel: They are doing very well. Obviously, this was not an easy experience for them. They have handled all the attention with class and grace. Mary is steadfast in her support of the book and the film, and of course gay rights in general. We brought Mary and her husband Bob to the set, with us to the Emmy Awards when the film was nominated (as was Sigourney), and they also joined us at the PFLAG Awards in New York.
Radar: I know this project was a real labor of love for you. Why was it so important for you personally, for Sigourney Weaver, and for everyone who worked on Prayers For Bobby ?
Daniel: I instantly fell in love with Leroy Aaron’s book. I met Leroy, Mary and her family and we just had an incredible connection. Many people would have given up on us as this story took a long time to get made. Mary never wavered in her support and for that, I’m endlessly grateful. Sigourney felt it was such an important story to be told, a cautionary tale that parents needed to see. She was the reason the film got made. Her passion for the project, her respect towards Mary and her family, her dedication to the film long after the initial Lifetime airing is extremely impressive. How many A-list actresses are willing to do a press tour to promote the DVD release of a movie that’s been out for almost two years already? Her dedication to sharing this story continues to amaze. I just can’t imagine anyone else out there who is a better ally for the gay community.
Radar: What is the ultimate message of the film?
Daniel: God didn’t “cure” Bobby because Bobby was exactly who God wanted him to be.
Radar: As an openly-out producer, how do you think the media, in general, portrays gays and lesbians?
Daniel: I think it’s definitely improving, but they’ve still got a long way to go. I’d be happy to never again have to watch another news program with a person who is gay debating someone who still thinks gay is a choice. It’s such a ridiculous argument and to give both sides equal time is demeaning and homophobic. Not to mention the confusing message it sends to gay kids watching (and their parents).
Radar: What is your take on TV shows like Glee that are featuring profoundly moving storylines about anti-gay bullying? Do you believe TV shows, which feature strong gay characters, can change attitudes?
Daniel: I think Glee is fantastic. Shows like Glee , Modern Family and Brothers and Sisters change attitudes. 90210 has a fantastic gay story-line this season. Considering more kids are coming out at a younger age, its critically important that these kids have positive role models, and equally important that their peers (and family members) do too.
Radar: As a producer, why do you think more gay and lesbian actors do not come out? Do you think, in this day and age, the public still has a problem accepting an openly gay man in a romantic lead opposite a woman?
Daniel: I think it’s mostly fear based. I think so many actors are hoping to become the next Brad Pitt or the next Julia Roberts and they are scared to death that if people found out they were gay or lesbian that that would not be possible. That said, Brad and Julia are the lottery winners of actors. I’d hope the goal would be to have a successful career as an actor and be a healthy individual rather than living a lie while chasing that .001%. There are actors who are gay and out having very successful careers. Those numbers will continue to grow. I think the public is way ahead of Hollywood decision makers and would accept an openly gay man in a romantic lead.
Radar: In December, 2009, Rupert Everett said that coming out ruined his career as a leading man and he advised gay actors not to come out. As someone in the industry, what is your take on that?
Daniel: I was sad to hear that he gave that advice. Actually, if you look at Rupert’s career, it’s been far more successful than most straight actors. I know plenty of straight actors who would kill for the roles he’s had and to work with the people he has worked with over the years. Maybe he’s disappointed that he didn’t become as big a star. Again, I think to get to that level of success is more luck than anything else .
Radar: Recently, Carrie Fisher made headlines when she ‘outed’ John Travolta during an interview in The Advocate. Whether Travolta is or is not gay is beside the point, but what do you think about people outing stars under the argument that gay people in the public eye have a special responsibility to live open and honest lives.
Daniel: I don’t think stars have a special responsibility to come out. Obviously, it would be great if everyone came out.
Radar: Recently, people fighting for the rights of gays and lesbians won a major victory with the repeal of DADT ( Don’t Ask Don’t Tell).
Many celebs — including Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, and Cyndi Lauper — openly supported the repeal. What is your feeling of the power of celebrity to change minds?
Daniel: I think celebrities supporting equality is incredibly important, whether they are gay or straight. They command attention from the media. Not just in the U.S., but worldwide, and the struggle for equality is global. We export our programming all over the world. Prayers for Bobby is on television and out on DVD all over the world, and we have heard (via email at www.prayersforbobby.com from thousands of primarily young people about the impact our film has had on their lives.
In addition to being available at video stores, Prayers For Bobby can be purchased at www.amazon.com. The DVD contains a lot of extras, including cast interviews.
Interview conducted by Neil J. Woulfe, News Director for RadarOnline.com, 8-time Emmy Award winner, and recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in journalism.
Some important information Daniel asked us to pass on:
Here are some statistics from The Trevor Project, the nationwide gay teen suicide helpline.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds, accounting for over 12% of deaths in this age group; only accidents and homicide occur more frequently.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses.
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide than LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
It is estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. 62% of homeless LGB youth will attempt suicide at least once-more than two times as many as their heterosexual peers.
For more information about The Trevor Project, go to www.trevorproject.com.