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March 23, 2014 | posted in Documentaries
Over the course of his too-short life, Mark Bingham surprised his mother with a number of life-transforming announcements. While his last one—his call from within United Flight 93 on September 11th, telling his mother that the plane he was in had been hijacked—is probably the most famous, another moment sticks in Alice Hoagland’s memory.
“Mark came home from school and said ‘Mom, I’ve got a sport! RUGBY!’ Oh my gosh,” Alice Hoagland laughs. “All the stereotypes about rugby flashed through my mind, and I was a little bit afraid that my son was going to be maimed or killed on the rugby pitch. But as it turns out, rugby is safer than American gridiron football.”
Mark had a gift for challenging stereotypes, part of what drew filmmaker Scott Gracheff to his story.
“He seemed like an incredible guy,” says Gracheff, “someone who I would have wanted to meet, hang out and become friends with.”
Although they never met in life, Gracheff was able to forge a connection with his subject through the enormous collection of videos that Mark had shot over the years, and through the enthusiastic support of Mark’s family and friends, resulting in “The Rugby Player.”
In addition to overcoming physical pain on the rugby field, Mark was also a gay man who faced prejudice and discrimination throughout his life. His mother has championed LGBT causes in his name, noting that “one thing that Mark dreaded when he was alive was the idea that gay people were so badly reviled in the press, and in literature, and in the movies,” which would have portrayed him as someone incapable of the heroic acts he performed, both in everyday life and on the final day of his life.
“The mainstream media often takes the easy way out, simplifying stories, leaving out details and settling for convenience over truth,” Gracheff agrees. Countering with rich, complex stories and marginalized perspectives, like Mark’s, is his mission.
Although “The Rugby Player” has screened almost exclusively at LGBT film festivals so far, both Hoagland and Gracheff have high hopes that it will get a wider release, given how crucial its message is.
“The world needs to see,” Gracheff explains, “that when someone makes the decision to come out as gay and live honestly and openly in society, and when they are met with love and support as opposed to intolerance and violence, they can grow up to be extraordinary individuals, and in Mark’s case, they can even grow up to be heroes.”
— Lara Klaber
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