HPPUB VIDEO REVIEW of Oliver Button is a Star


Title: Oliver Button is a Star

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 56 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  n/a  (PG-13)

Distributor and Production Company: TCGMC/Hunt-Scagliotti

Director; Writer: John Scagliotti, original music by Alan Shorter, artistic direction for TCGMC, Craig Carnahan

Producer: Dan Hunt (Tomie de Paola, John Scagliotti, Joann Usher)

Cast:   Tomie de Paola, Ann Bancroft, Bill T. Jones, Kevyn Aucoin

Technical: video

Relevance to HPPUB site:


  “He was the last picked for any team.  We have to have Oliver Button. Now we’ll lose for sure,”

   I recall an incident in sixth grade, where I didn’t get my “ups” at recess because the batter ahead of me, while I was on deck, hit into a triple play!

    This video is based on Tomie de Paola’s book, “Oliver Button is a Sussy,” which became a short stage musical put on by the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus in 2000, portions of which appear in the video. The original book was published by Harcourt in 1979 and the information from Barnes and Noble is Format: Paperback, 43pp.
ISBN: 0156681404, Publisher: Harcourt.
It was intended as a children’s book, ages 5-7. De Paola has had a prolific career as writer and artists since (just look at bn or amazon). In the book and musical, the Oliver Button character (and, in the video, several real life persons) progress from being social outcasts to present day stars.  Director John Scagliotti had directed After Stonewall (1999).

   For example, Ann Bancroft would make a journey to the South Pole, as in her Maybery award winning film Poles Apart. African-American Bill T. Jones would become a choreogeapher, and Kevyn Aucoin, after recounting particularly poignant accounts of rejection in boyhood sports activities and even speech therapy for his “lisp” would become a makeup artists. Aucoin is interesting because his presence in the video contradicts the “sissy boy” stereotype; he looks broad-shouldered and forceful and the lisp is gone. The baby Moses grows into a star.

   At one point in the script, de Paola mentions the social objection to “singularity” for young men. Of course, this is what a lot of the controversy over the supposed “sissy boy syndrome” is about; society as a whole needs young men to grow up to fill fungible roles and find adult individuality only through marriage and family.  Conservative authors like George Gilder and more socially compassionate writers like Warren Farrell have explored this problem.  So, unconventional young people “deviate” at their own risk and a few grow up to be stars. Of course, that leads to the question, what about the rest of us?

   But the “sissy boy” (or “tomboy girl”) issue is just the tip of the iceberg, of what individuality is all about. “Why can’t I just be me?” Tomie asks, at one point. It gets complicated because the “sissy” and “tomboy” axis hardly characterizes the gay community as a whole. Just look at the political issues of gays in the military and in the Boy Scouts, and the various accounts of the contributions of gays in defending the country (starting with Mark Bingham on Flight 93 on September 11).  We associate individualism with creativity and psychological polarity, a topic explored elsewhere on this site as with the writings of Paul Rosenfels.  Creativity varies from the artistic, “non-competitive” temperaments shown on this video to the manipulations of high Hollywood. But the problems of individualism extend all the way into our politics and international crises.  In the workplace, we see a clear tension between people being able to do what they want to do, and making the investment and sacrifice to keep the sharply chiseled hands-on skills required by a job market with unusual short-term focus. The crises over national security and terrorism may be seen in part as a struggle over how some people in other parts of the world and with other cultures and religions view our individualism.

   The video goes in this direction by several dialogues and news reports about bullying in school systems.  It is easy to extract the point that bullying—however motivated by boys’ need for peer approval and group belonging—is the starting point of hate, group violence, militancy, and the horrible consequences that we have seen recently. The book and video also make it absolutely convincing that one can make “gay-related” subject matter suitable for younger audience, a point important to the debate over COPA. 

   So it is possible to take the vision started in this video much further, all the way to the meaning of self-definition and freedom for mainstream Americans.

   It would seem to me that one could put the entire musical and historical materials from this video and make a commercially releasable film. 



Related reviews: Gilder, Rosenfels, Farrell, Ann Bancroft, After Stonewall


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