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15 Jul 2010

Prayers for Bobby

Nigel Collett reviews Prayers for Bobby, a 2010 Golden Globe-nominated film based on the true story of Mary Griffith (played by Sigourney Weaver) – now a prominent campaigner for the US NGO, Parents, Families, Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) – whose son, Bobby was gay and committed suicide in 1983.

You probably haven’t had the chance to see Prayers for Bobby unless you were lucky enough to have caught its original US TV showing on Lifetime network in January 2009. It’s not on general release in Asia (it’s either not a commercial proposition or is considered a film with a theme too controversial to show). You might have been able to pick it up at a film festival or in events like the joint celebration of this year’s IDAHO by the British Embassy and the Beijing LGBT group, Queer Comrades. But if you’re not in any of these categories, you’ll just have to go out and buy the DVD when it’s out, which will be soon.

I was among the lucky few in Hong Kong who managed to get a ticket for one of the three shows screened in June and July at Mongkok’s Golden Harvest Cinema by the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association (BGCA), which is using the film to showcase their work with Hong Kong’s LGBT youth and their parents. The BGCA (one of Hong Kong’s oldest NGOs, formed back in 1937) works through youth clubs and schools in a programme called Project Touch to reach out to gay and lesbian young people, offering them companionship and counselling. It also works with their parents, so this film is a perfect vehicle for them.

Sigourney Weaver plays Mary Griffith, now a prominent campaigner for the
US-based group Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG),
who struggles to accept her young son Bobby being gay.

The movie is based on the true story Mary Griffith, now a prominent campaigner for the US NGO, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Her son, Bobby, was gay and committed suicide in 1983. Their story was featured in 1989 in the San Francisco Examiner, where it was read by Leroy Aarons, a journalist and founder of the US National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He turned it into a book, Prayers for Bobby: a Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son, which came out in 1995 (and is still in print).

I will not spoil the story by giving a full summary of it here, but will give you enough of it to make clear why the BCGA picked it. Mary Griffith is played sensitively and powerfully (and she is, by all accounts, a powerful woman) by Sigourney Weaver, here in one of her finest performances. She dominates her family of all-too-accommodating husband (played by Canadian Henry Czemy) and four children using her evangelical Christian religion and the Bible with which it has armed her to impose an all-American conformity on her home. The slow awakening of her son, Bobby (played by the good-looking twenty-three year old actor Ryan Kelley) to the fact that he is gay shatters the world that Mary has built and tears the family apart. The mother ends up choosing religion over her son and in the process loses him entirely.

The film renders the tragedy at the heart of this tale very clearly. All the protagonists are caught in the trap of trying to live a ‘good’ life, but it is a life that is divorced from the reality of the world and so cannot stand. Mary chooses, she thinks, to try to save her son from eternal damnation by making him straight, something he cannot ever be, and her inevitable repudiation of what he is leads him to die gay and by his own hand, to be damned, in her literalist thinking, and so irrevocably separated from the love of his family. The tragedy is as much hers as it is her son’s. For this part, Sigourney Weaver won a Trevor Life Award from the Trevor Project (that works to prevent teenage gay and lesbian suicides) and deserved it. Unless you’re of the hardest disposition, I’d watch this film with a large box of tissues handy. 

The movie is also very clear about the religious issues involved, something which is of great use in a place like Hong Kong, where Christianity, often of a very conservative kind, has a stranglehold over the school system. Mary Griffith’s faith was based on what she believed was a literal interpretation of the Bible; this was the one she had been taught, and though she knew most of the Bible word for word, she had not been brought to see the inconsistencies within its pages, texts, for instance, that ‘abominate’ shell fish in the same breath as same-sex practices, or which throw equally lethal stones at issues long ago ignored like adultery as they do at men sleeping with men. Christian fundamentalists will never admit that the bits of the Bible they adhere to are actually a ‘lifestyle choice’ yet they can be prepared to adhere so rigidly to the texts they choose that they destroy the love that is supposed to be at the heart of their faith. Mary Griffith was brought to see this in the most horrible way, and in this lay her tragedy. 

Viewers who often bridle (like this one) at Hollywood’s usual dollops of sentiment may find parts of this film, particularly its end, a little too sappy, and those of us trapped in the tawdriness of Hong Kong’s gay bar and disco venues may look a little agog at the film’s reconstruction of the early 1980s gay disco scene in Portland, Oregon (in the film a place filled only with the amazingly beautiful bodies dancing to amazingly arousing music amidst swirls of light and clouds of mist; if only it were that way here, one gasps!). These are small criticisms, though, of a fine film, one that is worth watching not just for its message but for its superlative acting and riveting story. 

Go out and buy that DVD!




1. 2010-07-15 20:11  
I love this movie. It was filmed in Royal Oak Michigan. When I went home two summers ago, they decorated our nice little Michigan town like Castro District and they had even a little gay parade in the streets. Great movie, great acting, great message and based on true story.

Its the kind of movie one can watch with their straight parents and get a real and thoughtful conversation going about religion and gay life.

2. 2010-07-15 20:59  
im SOOO gonna download this!
3. 2010-07-15 21:09  
I just watched the trailer.And I cried.
4. 2010-07-15 21:13  
this film is great, so heartbreaking story. it gives me a thought that suicide is not an answer.
5. 2010-07-15 21:16  
Have watched it. Very touching and heart breaking. Really one of the best gay themed movie i ever watch. It really hit the spot on some of the issues that most of us gay men face.
6. 2010-07-15 21:41  
I very touching story indeed. I watched it in Taipei. I told myself not to cry before the movie but i just couldnt stop my tears while watching it.
A great movie and worthwhile for my movie library too :)
7. 2010-07-15 21:42  
A very touching story indeed. I watched it in Taipei. I told myself not to cry before the movie but i just couldnt stop my tears while watching it.
A great movie and worthwhile for my movie library too :)
8. 2010-07-15 22:02  
A very touching movie.
I watched it twice and used two boxes of tissue.
Even though the theme of Christian intolerance of homosexuality is not central to Chinese culture, I still think the movie helps to clarify a bit of the (Western) modern homo situation and offers an angle for non-Christian homos to define their situation, especially for the young.
And just like lagunabro said, "It's the kind of movie one can watch with their straight parents and get a real and thoughtful conversation going about religion and gay life." And one might go from here to talk about family, school, society and gay life with his(her) straight parents.
This movie is definitely one piece of one's repertoire to use in his coming out to more difficult objects.
修改於2010-07-15 22:19:10
9. 2010-07-15 22:21  
Looks like a great movie, and I like both Sigourney Weaver and Ryan Kelley, but Argentina just legalized gay marriage today, which I thought would merit more prominence on a gay site than a movie review.

Maybe that'll be tomorrow's lead story. :)
回应#10於於2010-07-15 22:56被作者删除。
11. 2010-07-15 22:37  
Finally an intelligent article not featuring models. Suicide among young gay men has always been a problem. Sigourney Weaver is a superb actress who can play anything. It is a shame movies like this are always buried or stifled due to controversial themes.

Gay men are always bombarded with unrealistic images of what they should look like, none of us are perfect. Being gay in itself is a challenge at times.

I haven't seen it but I plan to now.
12. 2010-07-15 22:54  
Thumbs up for a great movie.
13. 2010-07-15 23:02  
I'm totally getting the DVD! Been waiting for its release ever since I heard about the true tragedy-based movie a few months back.
I wish this were available when I came out to my family at the age of 18. Probably the worst period of my life.

If this movie can help educate but one family, make them realise it is also a blessing to have a gay son/daughter/sibling, then I daresay Bobby wouldn't have died in vain.

I'll get a box of maxi tissues along with the DVD.
14. 2010-07-15 23:20  
Enchanting! great movie !
15. 2010-07-15 23:26  
i love this movie... it is a movie that i can totally relate... i being a believer of Christianity and yet not willing to to be baptize due to inner conflict of my true sexuality, yet at the same time the denial of my family about my true self...

i tear at the scene that Bobby committed suicide... infidelity of the gay society causes more pain in his heart, when he innocently decide to believe what he wholeheartedly believe; his first gay love. Double whammy as it is, he choose to leave the world.

May God bless him and give him a place in Heaven. For not condemning him coz he is a homosexual, bless him coz he is innocent to love with his pure heart.

16. 2010-07-16 00:09  
But will Singaporean parents heed the message . . . ? I'm a pessimist. I am glad my folks have been supportive since my teenage years. NOT once has any of them (including siblings) ever shaft GOD in my face. Or Quan Yin for that matter (in our case). I know some of my Christian & Muslim friends never had it easy . . . some still not (already into their 40s). I have loved Sig ever since she started killing Aliens . . . she is a powerful actor.
修改於2010-07-16 00:10:54
17. 2010-07-16 00:54  
Lieutenant Ellen Ripley: "All these these these, u think is so important, u can kiss your ass and say good bye" - Alien 2
18. 2010-07-16 02:06  
great film, watched with my mum, and we both cried,lol
19. 2010-07-16 03:10  
VERY GOOD FILM! I found myself crying at the end
20. 2010-07-16 04:08  
I just wish I could have the chance to watch it.. Im sure Philippines wont show that movie in the cinema.. hope someone could lead me to the site where I can download the movie.... pls
21. 2010-07-16 04:08  
im the few lucky Hong Kong guys who got the opportunity to watch this movie.
well.. the film was really excellent and it truly and genuinely unveiled the truth of unjust and bigoted affairs towards homosexuality since the 1980s.
i think i gotta buy the DVD :)
22. 2010-07-16 06:41  
This is a beautiful movie but I recommend you watch it with a friend. It's about a place all gays and lesbians have been to when they were young. It's sad that Bobby and lots of other gay and lesbian youth did not get a chance to go past that place. I think the movie reminds those of us who did manage to get past a difficult youth have a duty to help younger gays and lesbians find their place in the world.
23. 2010-07-16 07:46  
this movie is very good they should make more movies like this its very powerful story line
24. 2010-07-16 07:46  
this movie is very good they should make more movies like this its very powerful story line
25. 2010-07-16 07:49  
where can i find this movie.. it seems like very interesting and so heartbreaking story...
26. 2010-07-16 07:51  
WOW, I haven't seen the movie, but its already led me to tears! Hopefully, this movie will be or is available in Australia.
27. 2010-07-16 09:36  
If you liked this please read the book. It's outstanding and heartbreaking.
28. 2010-07-16 10:23  
Thanks Fridae for letting us know about this. I cried watery tears just through the trailer.
It seems, Ignorance = fear
Education = less fear, more liberation.
Just after seeing the trailer I want to change the world.
Peace. B
29. 2010-07-16 10:32  
Though I did not have challenges coming out to my friends, family or at work, I still deeply touched by the movie.

My very first gay pride memory was San Francisco Pride in 1997 and I remember it was the first time I came across "PFLAG" and I was totally amazed by the idea that parents, friends and family out on the street supporting their gay children/friends. (I wasn't out at that time. )

My mom is not one of those who would sit with me, watch this movie and sob with me. Neither will she ever march on a pride, but she accepted me in her own way. She has never once asked if I ever going to change my mind about being gay. She has never once talk about her regret of not having grandchildren (I am in the only son), neither has she ever, in front of me, envious about my cousins marriages or her friends' children wedding. That's her way of respecting who I am and accepting me. To me, that is good enough. That says a lot of her being an Asian mom.

I have a group of friends who are involved in a support helplines for parents with gay children in Taiwan. I really admire what they do for the community.
30. 2010-07-16 10:43  
I cried a river...
31. 2010-07-16 10:48  
For those of you seeking this movie, I found it on veoh.com. The website has a surprising number of LGBT quality films on it. I don't have cable so I missed the Lifetime screening. This is an amazing film. I love Sigourney Weaver!
32. 2010-07-16 11:22  
I love this touching movie
I been watching several time...
33. 2010-07-16 12:13  
Blimey!! Bobby in the film is soooo cuteeee!! ;P
34. 2010-07-16 12:35  
i'm surprised they didn't allow it to be screened here, in Singapore.

After all, the powers that be like unhappy outlooks of our lifestyle...
35. 2010-07-16 14:56  
I had a bigot christian family. I knew I am gay from my puberty. I committed suicide when I was 20. I was saved. I had stolen life due to society. I hope this film teaches people for tolerance, for understanding and acceptance. I could not stop crying when Sigourney told: God did not cure my son, because he was not sick. Great film, touching and heartbreaking. Let God save and bless all the people, who give us hope and shelter in this World.
36. 2010-07-16 15:06  
I had read the book 2 years ago and now just found out there was a movie...watched the trailer and it was so powerful, that this was the first time I have ever cried while watching a trailer! I want the DVD and want to watch the entire movie ASAP!!!
37. 2010-07-16 17:19  
Hand to heart i cried bucket just watching snippets of the movie.
Definitely gonna convert this onto my iTouch.
38. 2010-07-16 17:46  
The film can be watched in its entirety on Youtube:
39. 2010-07-16 19:09  
Is nice movie and I have brought the dvd.watched it twice and cries many times....very best
40. 2010-07-16 19:10  
回应#41於於2010-07-16 19:10被作者删除。
42. 2010-07-16 21:38  
Damn. I commented on this article last night like aeons before going to bed. Only to have the expression of despair etched on Bobby's face at 0.59 recurring over and over in a nightmare.
Hypersensitive or what?
43. 2010-07-16 21:55  
im cryinhg...so sad
44. 2010-07-16 22:23  
Guess I'm one of the lucky ones that chanced upon this title rather early when it's shown on Lifetime TV. It is so empowering it makes you want to come out.
45. 2010-07-16 23:09  
I found the whole movie on YouTube and watched it last night. Sigourney Weaver's acting is amazing, without over acting and yet so powerful. My tears kept falling during her speech.
46. 2010-07-17 05:34  
Just finished watching it, I am very feel sorry to bobby and to her parents, life is really unfair and ignorance is not really easy to conquer until such worst things happened. It made me feel thankful coz my family never find homosexuality as a hindrance but showed me how life is really tough for gays and make sure that they are always at my back to support me. Again, gboeckman thank you so much.
47. 2010-07-17 06:40  
it reminded me of what my first year was like after i finally got to know other gay people in osaka back in early 1990's. happy but unhappy. close friends and family seemed so distant, unreachable all at once. no role model around who lived a positive gay life.

this film also reminded me of the word, 'curable,' found in many books for teenagers to read in 1980's japan. i also tried to believe that gayness was curable and changeable as i grew up. it seems like i lived in ancient time written in a high school history textbook. haha

i'm glad that i survived those hardest time and that i have spent countless happy moments with my family, old and new friends in various countries afterwards.

last but not least, sigourney weaver's acting was so unbelievably real. guys, this is a must-see.
48. 2010-07-17 09:47  
Thank you a lot, Kellen.
I posted the Youtube link on the website of my group and it's warmly received.
I feel sobs are healthful if they fit the occasion and are not too violent or frequent and Sigourney Weaver and Ryan Kelley have given me one of the best sobs in my life.
And, of course, many thanks for the abundant air given me by Bobby and Mary Griffith. May God and Guan Yin keep us all.
49. 2010-07-17 22:00  
thank you, kellen.. i just finished "Prayers for Bobby"... it so touching... agreed to RedVoy83..
50. 2010-07-18 21:26  
is it human nature ...that they cant open their eyes ...or mind...until a tragedy occurs....
51. 2010-07-18 21:31  
I watched this last night,
I cried,
I bought the book today.

My mother is a white, christian, racist, snob.
My mother used to phone me & tell me that her & her priest were praying for me, she also used to talk to her doctor about having a gay son & she told me,
being gay isn't my fault, ( like hello ).

The ignorance in this world, still amazes me,

Intend to post my mother the book,
after I read it.

To any of you who have ignorant families,
take heart, be strong, look after yourself.


So many of us have igno
52. 2010-07-19 08:01  
This movie is touching... It's amazing how how we were raised religiously or taught can influence us for a lifetime... Everyday I just realize that I am just who I am and that's it. In the end, it's what makes us happy and sometimes we have to take the path less travelled.
回应#53於於2010-07-19 12:01被作者删除。
54. 2010-07-19 12:01  
wish my mum could change her mind. shes asking me to move out now bcuz shes so embarrassed by her gay son. she never told any1 she has son.

i can see myself in this movie. Cried my lungs out.
55. 2010-07-20 01:33  
I am having a major fund raiser Polo Tournament for the Trevor Project soon........................................................... I know how to raise serious cash
56. 2010-07-20 07:12  
hmmm couldnt believe i cried over this movie...a few time!
57. 2010-07-20 18:50  
THis was a really great movie!!! My heart was touched and moved. I understand what Bobby feels!!! I really cried all my heart out watching this movie!!!
58. 2010-07-20 23:42  
Moving performances by the leads. Thanks Kellen.
59. 2010-07-23 18:05  
Sigourney Weaver is an actress whom performance never failed me. With good script, she is just awesome. Only watching the trailer I cant hold my tears. Further reading some of the commence makes me pour unrelentlessly. Supports and words from ours parents are thousand times stronger and influencing then we trying to defending ourselves for who and what we are. I hope not only parents watch this movie, I everybody in this world should watch it.
60. 2010-11-04 01:32  
Is this website brave enough to lead the world forward to champion and release by every country, politcians, leaders, statesman, industry and celebrities (the latter, if we have to read about them again) and make the global community realise that being "gay" is not a choice. There are many fine people in the world and private lives are not a tabloid or boardroom issue. Thank You



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