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March 30, 2014 | posted in Filmmakers
Matt Shepard has become a household name. In 1998, 21-year-old Shepard was brutally beaten and left for dead in Wyoming. His name is now linked to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, commonly known as the “Matthew Shepard Act.”
“Matt is an iconic symbol of the LGBT community,” says director Michele Josue. Her feature film “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine” documents the life of Matthew Shepard and leaves the fame of his death in the past.
Josue attended boarding school with Shepard in Switzerland. He was a few years older than her, so Josue says she watched the story of his death “unfold from a distance.”
“I watched the media take over and strip Matt of his humanity,” Josue says. Over 15 years later, Josue crafted her film to generate interest in this charming man whose life was taken out of hatred.
“The desire to make this film has always been building inside of me,” Josue explains. “I wanted to wait until I was ready, members of his family were ready and we were able to talk about him in a vulnerable way.” She pauses and adds, “I wanted to be ready to do it.”
Even when she felt ready, the director maintained her fears and doubted herself often. The balance between emotional intensity of such a heavy, grief-ridden subject and having to complete an artistic endeavor, was not easy for Josue. But she was determined to tell her friend’s story.
“Matt’s story inspires people to be more compassionate,” says Josue. “It’s very easy to judge what you don’t know.” Shepard was like any other young person, he just happened to be gay. His story is universal because Josue says, “So many young people feel scared and different.”
“Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine” paints a beautiful portrait of a young man who was known for years as nothing but a symbol, and a symbol of the effects of hate nonetheless.
We can all learn something from Matt Shepard’s death but even more from his life. “Ignorance and hate are very much a part of our society,” says Josue. She adds hopefully, “Though times are changing.”
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