Wednesday, January 10, 2001
LARAMIE, WYO. In the opening moments of MTV's movie "Anatomy of a Hate Crime," Matthew Shepard walks toward the buck-and-rail fence where he was tied and savagely beaten and expresses confusion over his own death.
"They called my murder a hate crime," he says. "Where does that kind of hate come from? Are there moments in people's lives that create that hate?"
Shepard, played by Cy Carter in his movie debut, then invites the viewer into the Lar-amie bar where, on the night of Oct. 6, 1998, he met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the two men who would beat the life out of him, allegedly because he was a homosexual.
"Anatomy of a Hate Crime" is the first of at least three upcoming movies based on Shepard's death, which touched off international outrage and condemnation. (NBC is working with his family on a film, and HBO is producing one based on "The Laramie Project," which ran off-Broadway and focused on the town's reaction to the murder.)
It premieres today at 7 p.m. CST on MTV to kick off the network's yearlong campaign against prejudice. The film will air without commercials.
The drama draws its dialogue from court testimony, media interviews with Shepard's family and friends, McKinney and Henderson, and the killers' statements to authorities.
Carter's portrayal avoids the sainthood that many have thrust upon the 21-year-old political science major. His Shepard is a typical college student worrying about midterms, releasing tension at bars and uneasy with new relationships.
"If you just show the truth and the pains and the joys of real life and what people are going through, viewers are going to see themselves in him, or their sons or their big brothers and they're going to sympathize," the actor said.
Depicting Shepard as more perplexed than angry as he narrates the story helps draw the viewer in.
"I just knew and the director (Tim Hunter, best known for the 1986 film "River's Edge") knew as well that if Matthew were angry, if it came from a point of anger, then you can't dissect a problem. You can't really look at it," Carter said.
Although no simple answers emerge, glimpses of Henderson and McKinney's background offer clues: broken homes, poverty, little schooling, abusive childhoods, drugs and alcohol ...
"I think the film does a really good job of showing the complexity," Carter said.
Brendan Fletcher suitably plays the profane, way-too-cool McKinney, who was the aggressor in the attack, and Ian Somerhalder captures the quiet follower Henderson. (The two young men are serving life sentences for murder.)
Amanda Fuller and Busy Phillips play the girlfriends who help cover up a crime far more serious than they were led to believe.
Brian Graden, MTV's president of programming, said the Shepard murder struck close to home for many of his network's viewers and serves as an apt start of MTV's "Fight for Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Discrimination" campaign.
"This was somebody their own age. ... It was the perception of the boy next door. It resonated emotionally for them," he said. "We anticipate that 'Anatomy of a Hate Crime' will set the tone for the entire campaign and accomplish the goal of educating young people about discrimination."
After the movie, the cable music channel will present a half-hour news special on hate crimes. Then at 9 p.m. CST it plans a 17-hour break in its regular programming to run a continuous list of hate crime victims' names.
Graden said the network takes its cue for social activism from concerns of its viewers ï¿½ and musicians.
"It's been the artists and a lot of the musicians who have challenged our notions about civil rights and the Vietnam War and injustice," he said. "These themes show up in music, and musicians are challenging the broader world and the older generation."