DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Anatomy of a Hate Crime, The Matthew Shepard Story, The Laramie Project, The Rosa Parks Story. Rabbit Proof Fence, Licensed to Kill


Title: Anatomy of a Hate Crime

Release Date:  1998

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 88 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  not available, suggest PG-13

Distributor and Production Company:   MTV films

Director; Writer: Tim Hunter, Max Ember


Cast:  Cy Carter  (as Matthew Shepard)


Relevance to doaskdotell site:

Review: MTV offered this film first on January 10, 2001, on a night dedicated to opposing discrimination. And right off the plate, the most compelling part of this film was Cy Carter’s performance, said by people who knew Matthew to be very true to life as to his demeanor, vocabulary, and personality. He comes across with tremendous charisma and intellectual precision in the first 45 minutes of the film, before the crime and tragedy. He is someone that I believe would have related to me.  In fact, I believe that I met him once, about the time I was deciding to do my own book on gays in the military. The narration by Shepard as reincarnated or as a kindly “ghost” is effective in a manner that reminds one of American Beauty. 

There are interesting details.  For example, the girl-friend of one of the assailants testifies against the killer despite their having had a baby because they never got legally married.  There is one scene where Matthew asks for HIV information (for asymptomatic disease), supposedly for a friend. There are a couple of scenes between Matthew and a friend that display an exciting, if reticent, tenderness. There is presentation of Matthew’s fluency in various languages and cultures. 

The scenes regarding his two assassins are somewhat stereotyped, almost “heterophobic.” In truth, the film presents the crime as not so much a homo-hatred crime (even given the talk about “rolling queers”) as a “class warfare” crime. The two young men seemed to react like animals who will exert violence against those not only “different” but who also have what they “want” (money, finesse, and, believe or not even in Laramie, a certain sense of privilege and social esteem). 

The actual assault scene is mercifully brief, but it contains the kind of chilling shots that marked USA’s re-release of Blood Simple – with the same kind of lower-class “hobo” characters. The last fifteen minutes, dealing with the Wyoming criminal justice system, were too telescoped to really be effective.

Of course, we want to see the studios able to invest in this kind of material on a larger scale, sufficient for a theater release.  That is a goal I would like to work on some day.

As for hate crimes laws, I’ll say here that I think that they are a short-circuit or palliative to solving the real problems, which include government-sponsored discrimination, even if they appear in a practical sense to offer “relief” and a counterbalance to homophobia in the law enforcement and criminal justice system.  We don’t want to send a message that the surest way to be protected by the law is to set yourself up as a class of “victims.”  The law must apply equally to everyone.  The law can consider malice and motive behind a crime at an individual level without hate crimes laws, and it did in Wyoming.  Go back and read the words of the 14th Amendment, literally.  

And, of course, the country has learned that anyone can be a victim of a hate crime.

HBO films aired a film version of “The Laramie Project” on March 9, 2002, and NBC aires The Matthew Shepard Story on March 16, 2002. (NBC/Focus/Alliance Atlantis, dir. Roger Spottiswood) (Lifetime aired it on Jan. 2, 2007) The NBC movie starred Stockard Channing, Sam Waterson and (as Matthew) Canadian actor Shane Meier. The film was slightly longer (2 hours scheduled air time) than the other time, slightly more narrative in style and a bit less focused. The story presentation is layered, with the current time being the trial and sentencing of the two assassins. The defense attorney tries to bargain with the parents. Then the story of Matthew’s life is told in engaging flashbacks,

Matthew appears to have exuded an unusual charisma and interest in engaging people, especially those older than him, in many kinds of discussion. One incident of interest is when young Matthew quits a retail job after refusing to dupe an elderly customer. He is totally turned off by the greed that seems to drive job performance in the workplace (at least in selling) and his boss thinks he is too “gay.” The campfire scene where he comes out to his parents communicates well the idea that no one understands what it is like to be him, to be different. He would have been a good friend had I met him. Sometimes, as when he lived in Denver, he seemed to come unhinged.

On Nov. 26, 2004 ABC “20/20” aired an interview by Elizabeth Vargas, in which Russell Henderson and Allen McKinney claim from prison that the murder was motivated more by drugs and money that homohatred, something hard to believe given the details

On February 24, 2002, CBS broadcast The Rosa Parks Story, with Angela Bassett and Peter Francis James.  Rosa Parks led the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 after being arrested when she refused to give up her seat on the bus.  Earlier scenes show her questioning the results of her written civics test after being denied the right to vote, and the anger of the white woman at her unwillingness to accept inferior status. In today’s world, it seems incredible that a few decades ago such outrageous discrimination against African-Americans was accepted as “normal” and that many white people, in the segregation following slavery and reconstruction in the South, seemed to look at blacks as a competing “species” or tribe in a zero-sum-game world. As late as the early 1970s, I would find apartment complexes in Arlington, Va, doing all they could not to rent to blacks. 

Another important view of race comes from Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce and Miramax: Rabbit Proof Fence (2002). This film relates the story of three aborigine girls taken to a state run camp to be “assimilated” into the white race as domestics, and their journey home on foot. The wide screen cinematography of the outback in Western Australia is stunning. The screenplay itself seems episodic, though Kenneth Branagh seems chilling as the insensitive civil servant just implementing race policy.  I do remember the 1987 film about South Africa, Cry Freedom.

Licensed to Kill (1997, DeepFocus/PBS, dir. Arthur Dong, 77 min) is a chilling documentary in which the director interviews convicted killers of gay men. Most of them are socialized into a self-righteous collective mindset dependent on gender roles, which protect them from awareness of their own personal shortcomings. They feel that gay men flaunt their “passivity” to shame straight men who can’t “compete” and to remind straight men that they can fail to measure up physically. At least two of them mentioned their resentment of President Clinton’s attempt to lift the ban on gays in the military, as one of them (a soldier then) has assaulted men in a North Carolina gay bar in August 1993 out of that resentment.  The film should not be confused with the 1989 James Bond movie “Licence to Kill.”


Related review:  play The Laramie Project


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