Tied to a fence, on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Shepard lay dying. For 18 hours he was unconscious and undiscovered.
His frail, beaten, frozen body, felt the sun rise and set.. His entire face was encrusted in a mask of blood, except for two clear lines. Two lines that ran down from his eyes to his chin…the lines had been where he had been crying.
On 7 October 1998, two men beat, tortured and murdered Matthew Shepard because he was gay. His name was very familiar to me. I had seen The Laramie Project starring Christina Ricci (2002) and The Matthew Shepard Story (2002) starring Stockard Channing. But nothing that I had seen prepared me for the documentary Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine.
I have never cried so much in my life. Everyone knows, or loves, or is, someone who is gay. So I am not unique in my situation. I am not the only one that will come out of this movie and say, that could have been my family. This film will relate to everyone.
I thought this would be another story about the infamous murder, but it wasn’t, it was a story about Matt, the person. It describes who Matt was before the world knew his name. Before he was the face of Laramie, before he was the face of a hate crime, and before his face was beaten so badly he was unrecognizable. Told through interviews with his family and friends, the story navigates through his awkward childhood years, to his incredible family vacations, to some of the darkest times in his life.
He was not perfect, neither am I and neither is this documentary. The film was written and directed by his best friend Michele Josue and of course anything unsavoury or a threat to Matt’s character was left out of the film. Of course, of course, of course, it was a biased portrayal of him.
I understand why she did that, I understand her need to do it. He was her friend and the need to show only his good side outweighed the need to make an unbiased film. This film is not about the editing or the score or the camera angles. It shouldn’t be judged like that. It should be seen for what it is, not what it is not. It is about a young man, who was loved so very much and how he was so much more than how he died. Even though history will know his name, because of the way he died.
While watching the film, I was asking myself why I was making the connection between Matt Is a Friend of Mine and famous documentary, Dear Zachary (2008). Then it occurred to me, both documentaries were made by the person closest to the subject of the film. They were both made by best friends. And because of that, this film is authentic and poetic and personal.
It has been 18 years since Matt died, and people may ask why we keep talking about it. Why we keep drudging up a hate crime that happened so long ago? But we must talk about it. We must always talk about atrocities that have happened to humanity. How else will we remember not to do the same thing again?
I came away from this film with an appreciation for Matt’s family, Matt’s friends and Matt’s life. I was grateful for what this documentary did. It showed the person behind the infamous story. And as I reflected on the film, I thought to myself, I wished I could have saved him. I wished I could have known him. I wished I could have said, Matt Shepard is a friend of mine.