21 The Matthew Shepard Story (2002)

Say His Name: The Matthew Shepard Story (2002)

By Raiden Quiggle

 

The Matthew Shepard Story is a powerful and important story. The film was made was because a gay man was tricked and murdered because of discrimination and power. The two murderers felt Matthew was different than them; he was murdered for being gay. I think as a society we try to not care or dismiss bad news that doesn’t personally affect us but his story deserves to be heard. This is very relatable for today’s students. The film even got big-name actors and actresses to play the family members and friends. This helped get his story heard by more viewers than the other film documentary the real friends of Matthew made, called Matthew Shepard Is A Friend Of Mine. The unfortunate part is that they used a heterosexual to play the character of Matthew, but that’s typical.

 

Matthew provides most useful representation of difference in this film. Matthew was engulfed in a society that is very heteronormative and he tried his hardest to play that part but after years and years of struggling finally faced that he is different. He went to a university where he found an LGBT support group and finally started to accept himself instead of hating himself and wanting/trying to die. After all of his trials and tribulations, he was in a state of peace, and then, because of his sexuality, those two men baited him and got him to go in their truck with him and  brutally murdered him for being gay( different). I agree with the point of view the film has; it is told from the parents perspective and portrays what they had to go through immediately following his murder.  I do agree with some reviewers that it would have been better to include Matthew’s story before his death in more detail.

 

I found this to be a very touching and moving movie with wonderful performances by all, however, I felt it would have been much better without all the grainy and artistic camera shots, and that the movie would have been more effective if told from the beginning to the end rather than jumping forward, back, forward, and showing so many flashbacks. It was beautiful and brave to show the kiss between Matthew and his friend, but they could have explored that relationship a bit more so that we could feel a little more like we knew something of Matthew’s life. Overall, I think it was a very sad and scary tale of what hate and discrimination and prejudice can do to everyone when they get out of control. I seriously hope everyone will learn from the tragic tale of Matthew Sheppard’s life and this movie.

 

Screenshot from The Matthew Shepard Story
Screenshot from The Matthew Shepard Story (screengrab).

 

This film perpetuates that men have power and will use it on other men as a show of dominance or control likely due to some insecurities or trauma but nonetheless this film showed us that Matthew while on a trip to Morocco was out alone at night and got gang-raped by some locals This was a show of power just because they could and he looked like an innocent weak white boy. I find myself in full agreement with the film’s representation of power. The white man does in fact have the most power. But this film also dives into the power that Matthew’s parents have to decide whether or not to give the men who murdered their son the death penalty or to let them get the plea deal. The most impacting scene was when they decided to give the boys mercy because that is what Matthew would have wanted. They could have had them sentenced for life with no parole but they used their power to help and that hardly ever happens.

 

This is a direct quote from Matthew’s father at the trial. It is worth reading at length to appreciate the impact:

“My son, Matthew, did not look like a winner. He was rather uncoordinated and wore braces from the age of 13 until the day he died. However, in his all-too-brief life, he proved that he was a winner. On October 6th, 1998, he tried to show the world he could win again. On October 12th, 1998, my firstborn son, and my hero lost. On October 12th, 1998, my firstborn son, and my hero died. 50 days before his 22nd birthday. I keep wondering the same thing that I did when I first saw him in the hospital. What would he have become? How could he have changed his piece of the world to make it better? Matt officially died in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. He actually died on the outskirts of Laramie, tied to a fence. You, Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson, left him there, by himself. But he was not alone. There were his lifelong friends with him, friends that he had grown up with. You’re probably wondering who these friends were. First, he had the beautiful night sky and the same stars and moon we used to see through a telescope. Then he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him. And through it all, he was breathing in the scent of the pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind, the ever-present Wyoming wind for the last time. He had one more friend with him. He had God. And I feel better, knowing he wasn’t alone. Matt’s beating, hospitalization, and funeral focused worldwide attention on hate. Good is coming out of evil. People have said, ‘Enough is enough.’ I miss my son, but I am proud to be able to say that he was my son. Judy has been quoted as being against the death penalty. It has been stated that Matt was against the death penalty. Both of these statements are false. I, too, believe in the death penalty. I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process, to show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is to do so, because of Matthew. Every time you celebrate Christmas, a birthday, the 4th of July, remember that Matt isn’t. Every time that you wake up in your prison cell, remember you had the opportunity and the ability to stop your actions that night. You robbed me of something very precious and I will never forgive you for that. Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of someone who no longer lives. May you have a long life. And may you thank Matthew every day for it.”

 

Recent events have shown us that the issues and mentalities represented in the film are still perpetuated for example this seems like the place to talk about Tony McDade who was murdered by police officers after someone had been harassing him for being a black transgender man and he ended up out of self-defense stabbing the individual and when the police showed up they shot him multiple times in broad daylight and not one source of media covered it. I found it on Twitter. Tell me why those white boys after using guns to shoot multiple people get arrested without lethal force and get to go to jail and await trial and then be acquitted on mental health instability and this black transgender person got shot immediately. The news reports you will find use his deadname because that is how the media treats transgender people. That is racism. Homophobia mixed with racism makes police officers, and police officers kill people they are scared of. Gay people have it hard and black, indigenous, latinx, and asian gay people have it harder. The media is polarized, politics are polarized, the United States are polarized, and if you are not a white cisgender heterosexual man then the world is scary and threatening and the government is not here to protect you, they get to kill you and justify it with “gay panic defense” or “he resisted arrest” even when the whole world has video of you deliberately kneeling on a man’s neck for 9 minutes and three of those minutes the body was limp and unconscious and still you plead not guilty. The news shows what they think will interest their viewers while also pushing their agenda. They now have to be even more censored now that Trump changed our standards on media. The individual news sources are extremely biased and one will push republican ideals and one will push liberal ideas and both cherry-pick certain details to extenuate their point. You still will hardly see gay men or lesbians or trans women or trans men in the news or on the news because we aren’t mainstream enough or it might make viewers uncomfortable or whatever the excuse is and I am tired. I am tired of the president trying to eliminate any and all respect people had or have for minorities and encouraging people to inflict violence upon us because we aren’t the good white heterosexual Christian narrative pushing sheep. People need to start recording trans women and men getting beaten and murdered in the streets so that the internet can see what is happening to us also. The black community had to do the same thing in order for the world to take notice. We may end up with another Stonewall on our hands.

 

It is worth noting that most of the gay characters were played by non-gay actors and actresses and that is discrimination via the casting crew to not go hire actual LGBT members but instead wanted a Hollywood hit so they used big names to gather attention and a more broad audience. The perpetuation of the “flamboyantly gay” stereotype also was not helpful, not all gay men are feminine presenting so that was also dic=scriminatory. To be able to look at a movie and say “hey that’s someone like me, look we made it! is something LGBT people hardly ever get to do. Even a film entirely based around a gay character could not properly represent the gay community. They perpetuated the “flaming gay” stereotype also by having his gay friends being obnoxiously in your face flamboyant. Not all gays wear animal print and flail their hands all over the place. I do have to remember this was 2002 and the gay community was just emerging so I give them credit for trying their best at least.

 

I chose this story and film because Matthew’s life mattered. Not enough of the country knows this story, this is important and happens all the time. The only reason Matthew got his story shared so widely is because he was white. Unfortunately, trans black women and others get murdered almost every day but Hollywood doesn’t make movies about those stories because it’s controversial or they don’t think it matters or they won’t get enough ratings, or whatever the reason is. I still think it is important to hear about this story because like Derek Chauvi — the garbage ex-cop who had sexually assaulted people numerous times, had multiple excessive force complaints, had murdered an unarmed Native American a few years ago, and who most recently held his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until he was kneeling on his lifeless body and even then had to be pulled off to put the body on the gurney.

 

These two white boys knew they had power and privilege and that the law is on their side so they feel more encouraged to get away with actually murdering Matthew Shepard, even if they had known him since grade school. They trapped him and brutally beat the life out of him with the butt of a gun, set him on fire, and left him to die, he did not though, he went into a coma for about a week and an officer had to find his body tied to the fence post. His parents had to come to the decision to take him off life support because he was never going to make it out. The best part of this story is that his parents decided to personally allow the two boys who murdered their son to get out of life in prison just in Matthew’s name and with hopes that they could teach them a lesson in humility and gratitude and to thank Matthew every day they live. This is the gay agenda, to be free to be yourself without fear of being murdered for existing, but we are not there, gay men get murdered less than black trans women but they do still get raped and assaulted and fired from jobs and have cake makers refuse to bake their cakes for them.

 

This movie was made because stories like this need to be heard and it never would have made nationwide recognition had they not gotten this and a few other movies out and the Matthew Shepard Foundation wouldn’t have gained any traction. This movie was monumental for me, I had seen the plaid shirt on the news with the smiling blonde-haired boy but I was a kid and the news never stuck to my memory, and within a couple of weeks even the news stopped airing it and he disappeared again. His mother going around the conferences is what made me available to see this movie and when I did I told everyone I knew about it and forced so many people to watch it because it is a powerful important story that reminded me that we still have a long way to go to reform white privileged boys brains to not hate differences. But even then they have a little less fear of dying for existing than black people fear every single day just walking down the street, or going to a grocery store and paying with cash and having the cashier assume they are drunk and using fake bills that get them murdered because of the implicit bias you had ingrained in your brain that black men are bad and thugs and drunks. Whether you consciously acknowledge that or not that is what white kids are brought up to think. Partly because of their families and extended families who have perpetuated the racism both internally and institutionally and industrially. These stories need to be shared and these names need to be said. Say his name.

 

References

Anonymous Review on IMDB.“The Matthew Shepard Story.” ​IMDb​, IMDb.com, 4 June 2006, www.imdb.com/title/tt0267736/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0​.

 

Josue, Micheal, director. ​Matthew Shepard Is a Friend of Mine​. ​ Ronald De Angelis, ​https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2555302/​.

 

Kaufman, Moisés. “The Laramie Project.” ​IMDb​, IMDb.com, 9 Mar. 2002, www.imdb.com/title/tt0257850/?ref_=tt_trv_cnn​.

 

Matthew Shepard Foundation. “Matthew Shepard Foundation.” ​Matthew Shepard Foundation​, Judy Shepard, Dennis Shepard, 20 Apr. 1998, www.matthewshepard.org/.

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Difference, Power, and Discrimination in Film and Media: Student Essays by Students at Linn-Benton Community College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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