Entertainment » Television

Prayers for Bobby

by Roger Brigham
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jan 21, 2009
Bobby Griffith (Ryan Kelley) sees only darkness down the road in "Prayers for Bobby."
Bobby Griffith (Ryan Kelley) sees only darkness down the road in "Prayers for Bobby."  (Source:Lifetime/Dayna Gross)

Scratch Sigourney Weaver from the American Family Association's invite list for its annual Christmas party. With a powerful restraint unusual in its genre, the made-for-TV movie "Prayers for Bobby," premiering on Lifetime Jan. 24, delivers a quiet but compelling rejection of the wisdom of sacrificing the most precious of family values -- acceptance of each other -- in the name of blind faith and homophobic damnation. And it's the heroine who put the hurt on the nasties in the "Alien" movies who emerges as the champion of that lesson.

Directed by Russell Mulcahy, "Prayers" is an adaptation of the book by the late Leroy Aarons, former executive editor of the Oakland Tribune and founder of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. It explores the true-life story of the price suburban family pays in its search to reconcile compassion and comprehension with dogmatic faith and cultural prejudices.

When Bobby Griffith (Ryan Kelley) comes out to his family, his devout mother Mary (Weaver) is devastated and determined to help "cure" him through arranged dates, post-em Biblical quotations and constant prayer. Bobby pours his feelings out in a secret diary before finally jumping off a bridge in despair. Mary, never one to question what she could accept on faith, struggles to find a resolution between what she has been taught to believe and what her heart yearns to feel. Ultimately compassion wins and she joins PFLAG as an advocate for social acceptance.

Weaver's performance is essential to the effectiveness of "Prayers." She captures a woman who loves and is loves, but is truly conflicted by her son's revelation, and fears losing him to The Dark Side. Her conflict threatens not just her relationship with her son, but nearly engulfs those around them, including husband (Henry Czerny) and Bobby's brother (Austin Nichols). Eventually, the conflict more than anything else becomes the resented intruder, and after Bobby's suicide it is the conflict itself that Mary must do battle. In this struggle, she is helped to find answers for herself by MCC Rev. Whitsell (openly gay Dan Butler) and PFLAG member Betty Lambert (Susan Ruttan, ever suffering on "L.A. Law").

In lesser hands, the story could have been rendered into hysterical cartoon stereotypes in preachy dramatics over gay teen suicides and religious intolerance. That might have made for more entertainment value, but we would have lost what we receive instead: an understanding that the enemy of queer acceptance is not religion or the people who have strong religious values, but rather the reluctance to challenge written dogma when it conflicts with the spirit of the underlying scripture.

The white suburban world I grew up in in the heartland of Ohio was parallel to that of the Griffiths', but I was more fortunate. My parents raised their children with their religious values, but beyond asking that we be ethical and compassionate people, they only demanded of us that we be happy. When I became aware that my sexuality was not something they would recognize as compatible with happiness, I waited to tell them I was gay until I lived near enough that I could show them I am, indeed, very happy.

Could any parent hope for more?

I saw "Prayers" at a press screening in San Francisco, sitting a few seats to the left of Mary. Soda, popcorn and brightly colored boxes of tissues were distributed, and even tho everyone knew the story going in, many of the hankies were indeed used. When I said goodbye to Mary after the screening and thanked her for sharing her story, she quietly nodded her head and said, "Well, maybe it's never too late to right some injustices."

One of those injustices is shown vividly in the movie. At Bobby's funeral, the chosen clergyman praises Bobby, then lets one and all know how damned he is because of his sexuality. It reminded me of a friend's funeral a decade or so ago in Los Angeles, at which a fundamentalist minister told the congregation that not only my friend was now burning in hell, but that all of us faggots out there would soon be doing so as well. Those of us who knew Casey well sat and took it, having heard it all before and knowing we would hear it all again. The younger students in the church, these young kids whose lives Casey had profoundly affected with his compassion and his wisdom, sat with shocked looks upon their faces, before abruptly getting up, nodding their condolences, and walking out in anger at the ignorance they had just heard.

Mary's correct: it's never too late to right some injustices. Exhausting, but never too late.

Roger Brigham, a freelance writer and communications consultant, is the San Francisco Editor of EDGE. He lives in Oakland with his husband, Eduardo.


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