Franklin James Cook

“Prayers for Bobby” Shines Spotlight on Suicide of Gay Youth

In Grief, Media, Stigma on January 21, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Sigourney Weaver and Ryan Kelley embrace in their roles as mother and son.

Staff writer David Wiegand, in his review in the San Francisco Chronicle, gives the upcoming TV movie Prayers for Bobby, starring Sigourney Weaver, a bit of criticism for “awkward dialogue and merely adequate direction,” but in the end, he praises the film for the emotional weight of its acting and its message.

If “Prayers for Bobby,” airing Saturday [9 p.m. ET/PT] and based on the book by the late Leroy Aarons, is a tearjerker, it’s not only because it’s a Lifetime original film, and that’s what the network does, but because the true story of Bobby Griffith is tragic.

The film is about a gay teenager whose mother (Mary Griffith, played by Weaver) is a fundamentalist Christian who tries to “cure” him, which contributes to the young man’s suicide. The tragedy results in the mother coming to a new understanding about homosexuality, including speaking out about her experience. For more information about the movie, see the Internet Movie Database plot summary.

In a Boston Herald review, Mark Perigard writes that Weaver gives “one heartrending performance as a mother who realizes her rejection of her gay son led to his suicide.”

In the hands of a lesser actress, Mary would come off as an unhinged religious fanatic. As Weaver captures her, she’s a devoted parent confronted by something alien and frightening to her core beliefs … Weaver’s work should be remembered come Emmy time.

SPNAC readers may view a trailer of Prayers for Bobby, and MyLifetime’s page about the movie includes additional video, photos, interviews, and background material.

[UPDATE 01/22/2009] CBS’s Early Show today featured a TV interview by Maggie Rodriguez with Sigourney Weaver, in which the actress talks about meeting the real-life Mary:

“I have to say that I never felt judgmental of Mary. She meant the best for her son. That’s what’s so frightening … As far as she was concerned, this was a choice. And I think she didn’t understand that this was part of who Bobby was. She thought he was choosing a life, and she readily admits that she was incredibly ignorant.”

Also in today’s news, TV writer Chuck Barney of the  Contra Costa Times interviews Mary in “the Walnut Creek home [Bobby] left behind.”

Mary, 74, is sitting in the kitchen of a ranch-style home that is packed with cherished knickknacks, family photos, angel figurines and grade-school artwork provided by her grandchildren.

“I didn’t listen to my conscience. I was entrenched,” Mary recalls. “But I don’t live with the guilt anymore because I realized I was truly ignorant. It wasn’t something I did out of malice. So I can forgive myself for that.”

Following Bobby’s death, Mary, believing she was to blame, began an extraordinary journey of redemption and transformation. She became a highly visible spokeswoman for the Diablo Valley chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays [PFLAG]. She also appeared frequently on television talk shows, campaigning for public school counseling to support gay teenagers.

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[Related SPNAC post: “Trevor Project Honors Actress for Inspiring LGBTQ Youth” ]

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