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HBO film brings lessons of tolerance to students

Tuesday night, in USF’s University Lecture Hall, HBO Films presented its film production of The Laramie Project. Last night was the fourth and final time the film was screened on a college campus before making its debut on HBO March 9. On this night, however, the stars of the production were not the actors that adorned the screen. Instead, they emerged, one after another, from the USF student body in attendance.

The movie, which was filmed with important messages about tolerance, non-violence and freedom was followed by an hour-long panel discussion. The panel was made up of USF student leaders, professors and doctors. Susan Casper, daytime anchor for Bay News 9, was the event’s moderator.

The film, told through the accounts of those involved, portrayed the “hate-crime”murder of Matthew Shepard, a 22-year-old gay male. The movie, starring Steve Buscemi, Christina Ricci and Joshua Jackson used actual quotes from the people of Laramie, Wyo. Their tale conveyed an image of a town torn in two by old school morality and intolerance.

Ironically, the movie, which was filmed in color, was shown in black and white, sharply contrasting the films multi-colored take on social morality.

When the movie ended, though, the students were able to take the mike – and a stand against intolerance. The diverse crowd commented about the movie and about tolerance on the campus and in our society.

“If this movie helps to give people a new aspect of reality besides the news stories, it is all for the better,” said Basak Ozdemir, a USF student and member of the PRIDE Alliance.Ozdemir was adamantly involved in the discussion that proceeded the film.

“This is not just a crime against homosexuals,” she said. “This was a crime against humanity.”

At one point during the heated discussion, one listener tearfully thanked a speaking audience member. This after realizing that the story the speaker was recounting, how she had condemned someone for a derogatory comment toward another student, was actually about her.

“This was a perfect example of how discussions like these can plant the seed of tolerance and support for one another into our generation,” said Mike Caraker, one of the panelists and a member of Model United Nations at USF.

“This movie helps, too,” said Caraker.

“It teaches us that our generation is not exempt from hatred and that this form of media will make people pay attention to more important issues.”

The faculty that sat on the panel were equally influenced by the issues of tolerance portrayed in the film.

“As teachers, we are always choosing to affirm or discount one kind of worldview or another,” said Mark Neumann, an associate professor of cultural studies at USF. “We should make sure we are all teaching by example – that example being tolerance.”

The Laramie Project tries to convey equality in humanity and support for all lifestyles. This view has yet to be fully realized in America, but the wheels are turning. Richard Gagan, the academic advisor for the interdisciplinary social sciences program at USF, summed up the mood of the discussion.

“If we can’t have celebration, then tolerance must do for now,” he said.

  • Contact Nick Margiassoat