Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine @ The Ross

Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard

I was in graduate school when I heard of Matthew Shepard. What struck me about his murder was that it occurred in isolation. I could imagine, only imagine, in between a swath of stars that dotted a midnight sky and the wide-open space of the Wyoming frontier, the dogged sounds of a pistol being whipped across Shepard’s skull by the perpetrators Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson; the sounds of Shepard crying out in that wilderness with no one to hear him but his murderers; and, the echoes and hums of living things only heard in a rough country as they tied him to a fence and left him to die. When I saw his image in the newspaper, I shook my head and murmured, “Tch. He was but a boy … just a boy … who was he? Why?” His death galvanized the LGBTQ community given than he was gay. Later, Matthew Shepard became the symbol for hate crimes committed against those who are different.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine answered those questions. Directed by Michelle Josue, this documentary delves into the story of Matthew Shepard, his life, his parents, and the town of Laramie, Wyoming. Josue and Shepard became friends while both were students at a Swiss boarding school. In her debut, Josue features Shepard’s family and friends who loved him and the teachers who believed in him. She says, “As his story became an international news event, my heartbreak and sense of loss only grew as my friend Matt was replaced by ‘Matthew Shepard,’ an historic figure and icon that will forever be associated with unspeakable violence and hate.” Every testimony, as well as the documentary, serves as post-eulogies for Shepard, and will leave you feeling as if his life has been given its just due outside of the bright lights of the media.

Josue, also, uncovers more than expected; at times, she moves us past our comfort zones. The fence where Shepard was tied up still stands, and its visual is haunting. She brings to the forefront the violent rape by a gang of men Shepard suffered while on a high school trip to Morocco. More poignant, and uncomfortable, is an interview with a Catholic Priest who counselled McKinney and Henderson; he challenges her to think about forgiveness and to consider that McKinney and Henderson are our brothers. Josue begins to sob because she cannot fathom that these men who beat and tortured her friend are worthy of forgiveness. Can you? Would you … forgive? Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s parents, might will generate some insight into forgiveness in this very personal and intimately raw documentary of Matthew Shepard.

Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine plays through April 23 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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