Kevin Smith threw fans and critics a curveball with Red State, his horror satire about three teenagers kidnapped by a murderous Fred Phelps-esque religious fundamentalist and his virulently homophobic clan (Melissa Leo plays its matriarch). It represents a major stylistic and genre departure from Smith’s largely comic repertoire including Clerks and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
Smith confounded the film industry with Red State’s distribution scheme, choosing to take it on a national roadshow tour (with premium ticket prices); it plays, with Smith participating in a live online Q&A, at the Texas Theater on Sunday.
The dependable ally of the LGBT community — “I’ve got a brother who’s been married to the same dude for 20 years, I work in Hollywood so I’m surrounded by the gay community and I’ve always said I’m one cock in the mouth shy of being gay myself,” the bearish Smith has noted — executive produced queer-themed documentaries, Small Town Gay Bar and Bear Nation, and currently spends time interacting with fans of all sexualities via SModcast.com.
— Lawrence Ferber
Dallas Voice: Why such a dark film, Kevin? What was its genesis? Kevin Smith: It was a bunch of factors. I saw Michael Parks in From Dusk Till Dawn in 1995 and the dude blew me away. He was onscreen the first five or ten minutes and he’s making choices I’ve never seen any other actor make. He’s the truth. I said, “My God, I’ve got to work with that dude one day.” It took me 15 years to figure out what that would be because I didn’t want to get in touch with him and say, “Hey, man, you want to play Silent Bob’s grandfather?”
Cut to years later, my friend Malcolm Ingram makes Small Town Gay Bar. It’s about a gay bar in Mississippi and how tough it can be in a community where nobody really wants you there. In the midst of it, Malcolm speaks with Fred Phelps. Malcolm sat with the beast, had an hour interview with him and sent me the footage, and he came across as terrifying to me. This dude is a fucking villain. He looks like a grandpa or uncle and speaks with all the homespun gee-shucks-isms, and then the content of what he says … that’s what’s bracing. It’s all hate, divisive, God-hates-this-and- that, and very anti-gay. I don’t think you have to be gay to be offended by that sort of thing, to find someone like Phelps and his backwards fucking family deplorable. And you don’t have to be gay to want to do something about it. I can’t stop them from speaking but I can go out there and do to them what they do to Matthew Shepard’s family and soldiers coming home from Iraq. They essentially stand there holding a sign and make them feel like shit. So this is my version of standing there holding a sign and making the Phelpses feel like shit.
Is there any concern this would inspire the Phelps family to get a cache of weapons together? Oh God, no! I mean, I don’t think those people are violent in the very least. This movie isn’t them. We tee off on them. It’s a satirical take on them. One of their kids told me they pray for the deaths of others, but they would never do that kind of thing.
You had a pretty great counter-protest at Sundance. I saw that one of your group’s signs said Dick Tastes Yummy. That was fun, watching people’s creativity sparked by these animals. A bunch of kids who go to high school there in Park City, Utah, heard about the Phelpses coming to protest us and came out to counter-protest. These kids were holding up signs like God Hates Homework. One dude had a sign that said Why Did They Cancel Pushing Daisies? That one fucking blew my mind. That’s how you shatter a monster’s brain: You hold up a mirror. What they’re doing is ridiculous, dude, so when you show up and counter them with ridiculous shit like Thor Hates Straights and God Hates Rainy Days and Mondays, you defang them. That’s what Red State is. I can’t stop them from saying what they’re gonna say, “Believe” — I can’t and don’t want to; that’s freedom in this country. But if they’re going to make other people’s lives miserable, that’s what Red State is. And whenever they talk about the movie you can tell it bugs them. They stopped digging the fucking attention because we held up a mirror.
I read that you actually provided tickets to some members of the Phelps clan for one of the roadshow’s screenings and they walked out. Yeah, in Kansas City. I’m sitting there watching [the movie with the audience] and seven minutes in I get tapped on my fucking shoulder. I turn around and it’s Megan Phelps [Fred’s 26-year-old granddaughter] and I’m startled because you never want to see a Phelps that close. And she goes, “Oh, Kevin, this is filthy… but we just wanted to give you a gift before we get out of here.” At that moment for a brief second I was waiting for the gun to come flashing out like, “The gift is God’s mighty bullets!” But they handed me two protest posters. One said God Hates Fag Enablers — that’s what they’ve called me many times. The other was a bit more abstract, very fucking strange. They took our title treatment from the Red State poster and put it on a sign and it said simply, Red State Fags, and they all signed it, like they were members of a baseball team or cast in a movie. Megan wrote, “See you in hell… not really because I’m not going there and you are.”
How kind of them! What did you do with it? My wife goes, “You’re throwing that out;” I said, “You’re out of your fucking mind! I worked hard for this, I fought these fucking monsters for a year! This is a trophy, like Batman’s giant penny in the Batcave!” She’s like, “Well, you can’t let the kid see it.” My kid don’t know nothing from hate. We live in L.A. and there’s a hell of a lot of liberalism and tolerance out here. There is no difference between gay and straight, there’s no negativity to her. So we unloaded the bus after we got home from the tour and there it is staring at us in the face, Red State Fags. My kid stares at this poster and my wife is looking at me like, “You fucking idiot, I knew something like this would happen.” And our daughter turns to us and goes, “What is this? The sequel?”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.
Margie Phelps, the daughter of Fred Phelps, reports on Twitter tonight that Westboro Baptist Church will picket Gov. Rick Perry’s “The Response” — a day of prayer and fasting set for Aug. 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The Response is of course sponsored by the American Family Association, designated as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Westboro Baptist is also listed as an anti-gay hate group by the SPC. So it’s pretty clear that Perry will have to do a better job of uniting homophobic bigots — and build a bigger tent of hate — if he wants to win the GOP presidential nomination.
USED TO BE FUNNY | Victoria Jackson speaks during a tea party rally in Buffalo, last year (David Duprey/Associated Press)
Well she isn’t anymore, and she definitely isn’t as ‘Christian’ as she claims to be, either
HARDY HABERMAN | Flagging Left
I am older than I think — at least that is what I found out when I made the comment that I remembered Victoria Jackson when she was funny. My companions at lunch looked at me blankly and said, “Who?”
Years ago Jackson was the comedienne who “killed” on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show when she did handstands and recited poetry. She was the personification of the blond airhead doing what might have passed as “talent” in a beauty pageant.
She was very funny then, and it launched her career, which included a gig on Saturday Night Live for several years.
Lately, Ms. Jackson has gained notoriety by her rants denouncing the romantic kiss between actors Chris Colfer and Darren Criss on Glee.
Her diatribe against homosexuality, delivered in her trademark squeaky voice, sounds almost like a joke — until you find out that she claims to be a devout Christian.
So, I have no problem with her saying whatever she wants about fictional characters on Glee, or for that matter expressing her views on what is right and what is wrong in general.
My problem is her declaration that she is a devout Christian.
As someone who calls himself a Christian, I figure I have a little skin in this game, and frankly, I am sick and tired of the hijacking of one of the world’s great religions by a bunch of loud-mouthed bigots.
The Fred Phelps and Victoria Jacksons of this world have given my religion a really bad name. Heck, I even have a straight friend who has stopped calling himself Christian and now prefers “follower of Jesus,” since that makes clear the distinction between him and the hate-filled voices that dominate the media.
Victoria Jackson is just the latest person that somehow figures that the collection of books and stories that we have come to call the Bible were handed down from on high, written in 17th century English prose.
They claim to take every word as the literal word of God, and as such, the scripture for them is a handy rulebook to gaining a seat in heaven.
Jackson herself says, “Basically, the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin.”
Though the word “homosexuality” was unknown until the 19th century, Jackson like so many of her ilk indeed re-interpret the “literal word of God.” They selectively twist it to their own ends.
While wearing her acrylic and cotton blend fabrics, and most likely eating pork and shellfish, she forgets other verses that would declare her an abomination, no interpretation needed.
Now, I am not a theologian — far from it — but I do understand a few basic truths about trying to condemn people you don’t like using Bible verses. It’s dangerous and, quite frankly, about as close to blasphemy as I can imagine.
To try to take the feeble words of people who tried to wrestle onto paper something so great they could not even speak its name, and to then say that those few words were the end-all-and-be-all of the divine? Well, that belittles both the scriptures and God.
It is equally silly to just dismiss humankind’s struggle to find the meaning of existence as merely superstition and myth. Just because a story isn’t literally true doesn’t mean there isn’t an abundance of truth beneath the words.
Who can’t see the lessons behind the fables of Aesop or the poetry of Homer? That same truth exists in the parables of Jesus and the stories of the Patriarchs.
For that matter it exists in the recitations of the Prophet Mohammed, in the tales of the Gita.
So, let me just make myself clear. I am a Christian; I am gay; I am politically liberal and sexually more than a bit kinky.
Why am I telling you this? Because I don’t want people like Victoria Jackson to be defining what it means to be a Christian.
Let this be my personal witness, and you can take it or leave it. But I really prefer you consider it. Think about what you believe; don’t just mouth the words.
Rabbi Hillel, one of Judaism’s great teachers, who lived around 30 BCE, was asked to give his full understanding of the Torah while standing on one foot. He is quoted as saying, “Do not unto your neighbor what you would not have him do unto you; this is the whole Law; the rest is commentary.”
Sounds like something another Rabbi named Jesus said, doesn’t it?
In one recent interview Victoria Jackson stated, “This culture is affecting our children and making them run away from Jesus Christ.”
I say no, Ms. Jackson. Our culture is not the reason. It is the intolerance and bigotry of people like you claiming to be Christian that is making children run away from Jesus.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2011.
1. Calling her a “fag hag,” a spokeswoman for Westboro Baptist Church announced that the Phelps clan will picket the funeral of actress Elizabeth Taylor. Margie J. Phelps, daughter of the church’s leader Fred Phelps, said Taylor “joined Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger in hell.”
2. Our old friend Cindy Jacobs of Red Oak, Texas, preached at Sarah Palin’s home church earlier this month and said she hopes to have 500,000 “intercessors” mobilized for the 2012 elections “to shift this nation to righteousness and justice.” Watch video above.
1. Sarah Palin released a video statement (above) this morning in response to the Tucson shooting, saying her decision to put rifle crosshairs on a map over Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ district had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the incident at all. How could it have, right? But why so defensive then? And what better way for Palin to address a shooting that targeted Giffords, who’s Jewish, than by using an anti-semitic metaphor? Palin says those who link the tragedy to her violent rhetoric are committing “blood libel” — which refers to an accusation from the Middle Ages that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzoh for Passover. Palin is right, this incident was more about mental illness than rhetoric — until you consider the fact that the ones spewing the rhetoric are mentally ill. (Politico)
2. The governor of Arizona signed emergency legislation to prohibit Westboro Baptist Church from picketing within 300 feet of the funeral for a 9-year-old girl who was killed in the Tucson shooting. The legislation was initiated by openly gay State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Tucson, who said this: “I’m a strong advocate of the First Amendment and the bottom line is this, Fred Phelps and his group of people can still spew their hate if they want. They just don’t get to do it close to the families that are grieving. They have to be farther away.” (ABC 15)
3. The Advocate lists Minneapolis as the gayest city in America, and Texas is shut out of the top 15. Have we mentioned that The Advocate sucks?
The Fred Phelps clan was at the Supreme Court on Wednesday in a case involving their alleged right to picket military funerals. A jury awarded the family of a fallen soldier $10 million, but that verdict was overturned by an appeals court.
During Wednesday’s one-hour hearing of oral arguments in the case, Phelps cult members stood outside the Supreme Court picketing with their “God hates …” signs.
The attorney for the family of the soldier argued that if context ever mattered in a free speech case, this was it, according to the Washington Post. Attorneys general from 48 states signed on to briefs supporting the family, and 40 senators have also sent their support.
Margie Phelps, one of Fred Phelps’ daughters, argued on behalf of the family. She said the protest was done with “great circumspection” and within boundaries of previous Supreme Court rulings.
Justice Samuel Alito seemed the most sympathetic to the soldier’s family, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to have the most trouble with limiting free speech. She suggested no Maryland law was broken and the family could have obtained an injunction.
The attorney for the soldier’s father said his depression from his son’s death and his diabetes were made worse by the protest. Phelps said that being a Catholic and divorced made him a prime target for punishment from God.
Signs also used in the Phelps family’s recent Dallas protests were displayed in court.
The Phelpses have targeted the LGBT community for years, and gays and lesbians don’t take them very seriously anymore. When they were in Dallas, the LGBT community turned it into an all-day party with counterprotests, stupid signs of their own and an opportunity to raise money.
But the Supreme Court case involves a funeral and a family’s grief. The court will need to decide if and when free speech rights end and when a person has a right to privacy. While the Dallas protests were just silly fun, the military funeral protests can be classified as bullying. The intent to hurt other people must be weighed along with the right to speak freely.
Nate Phelps has a unique identity, but an identity many of us can relate to on different levels. He’s a parent; he’s a partner; he has kids, and he has to come out of the closet regarding his family life.
But Phelps is not gay. Instead, you could say he comes from a family life that is spiritually haunting — one led by his father, Fred Phelps Sr., the infamous pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.
Phelps, who is now estranged from his father, says he often feels “pulled in two directions.” On one hand, he wants to explain to the world how his birth family evolved into what it is. On the other, he has found from experience that people get uncomfortable learning who he is, and he has to “reassure them” that it is okay to criticize his father’s views.
Phelps Sr., at age 80, is well known for attacking the gay community and operating the website GodHatesFags.com. The WBC launched a protest at the Resource Center Dallas in July of this year, leading to a counter-protest that raised a record-breaking $11,000, according to RCD spokesperson Rafael McDonnell.
McDonnell said of the protest, “What struck me is how the entire community came together, saying, ‘We are not going to allow this in our neighborhood.’”
The younger Phelps, now 51, was not surprised by the event. Counter-protests are common, and even satirical filmmaker Michael Moore has been to Topeka with his Sodom Mobile to confront Phelps Sr.
“I thought my father was going to punch him at any second,” Nate Phelps recalled.
It is a telling statement, as Nate Phelps said his father used to beat his 13 children, often with a long piece of wood — his Biblical rod. Nate’s brother Mark and sister Dot are also estranged from the family.
“Our childhood was full of abuse and violence,” Nate Phelps said, “and that was our sense of what normal was.”
He said his father taught them they were all “hell-bound sinners” and they could not say enough prayers to be saved. He said his father was “profoundly critical, destructive and violent towards us.” And he said the worst part was that his father was so strong and manipulative, that Nate began to “internalize it and believe it” himself.
As an example, Nate Phelps recalls an early memory when his father chopped off his mother’s hair. “When he took those blades to my mother’s head, he was making a powerful assertion that he had absolute control over her very salvation. So ingrained were these beliefs that I remember fearing that, by cutting her hair, my father had condemned her to eternal damnation,” Nate has said in a speech.
Nate Phelps subsequently went through two significant periods of counseling in his life, the first period focusing on the religious abuse. He found a counselor with a theological background and, he said, it exposed him to more information about religion and theism.
Ultimately, Nate found solace in an atheistic outlook. But in the background of his mind, he said, he will have to fight the religious programming for the rest of his life, those expectations of walking in his father’s footsteps.
“The logical mind can dispute the expectations,” he said, “but the emotions — that is another thing all together.”
Nate, who has three children of his own, entered therapy a second time when he recognized that he “overreacted to events.” This time he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the extreme violence he experienced at the hands of his father.
With a deep sense of anxiety, Nate spent two weeks in a mental hospital trying to find peace and answers. But he said, “Certainly, there were no answers to be had.”
Nate Phelps said it was all the “thinking about things” that caused the anxiety. He said he realized that there simply was no way to think his way through it, though he tried to rationalize life to block his emotions. He eventually found that more thinking just increased his anxiety levels and he has been learning to find closure with the various issues in his mind.
“My father is not a human,” Nate Phelps said. “The official story around the household is that Dad was once balanced and even-keeled, until he found salvation. And then suddenly, he became aggressive.
“But I don’t know what made him so angry and hateful,” Nate added.
Perhaps it was because Phelps Sr.’s mother died when he was 5. Perhaps it was because his father had a violent job. Perhaps he invested so much energy in a runaway, run-amuck spiritual path that admitting a lifetime of mistakes is way too much for his ego to contend with.
Nate Phelps may never put all the pieces together from his childhood, but he is learning to live a life of peace now, in Alberta, Canada with his new fiancée, Angela. “Angela keeps me on my toes and keeps me communicating,” he said.
But Nate can’t help but be honest and share that he still sometimes wonders what people would think of him if they really knew him.
Today, Phelps speaks internationally about his life, about his belief that “things are good enough for now,” and about “living in the gray.” In fact, his usual speech is entitled “The Uncomfortable Grayness of Life.”
It is hard to live this way, between black and white, Nate Phelps said. But, he added, rather comfortably, there no absolutes anyway.
For more about Nate Phelps, his writing and his speaking, go online to NatePhelps.com. For more about Fred Phelps and WBC, go online to their new website, GodHatesTheWorld.com.
Renee Baker is a transgender consultant and massage therapist and can be found online at Renee-Baker.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.
Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano and Brent Rubin from State Rep. Eric Johnson’s office were on hand Friday morning to dedicate the Fred Phelps Memorial Icemaker. Members of Congregation Beth El Binah joined Resource Center staff to cut the ribbon and scoop the first buckets of ice.
The money for the icemaker was collected during the Phelps clan’s July visit to Dallas. They picketed Congregation Beth El Binah at Resource Center Dallas and other Jewish groups around the city.
The fundraiser was dubbed “Hell Freezes Over” and $11,000 was collected. The previous known record for a Phelps event was about $10,000 in New York City.
“Inspiration comes from the strangest sources,” said Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas. “Without the inspiration of the visitors from Topeka, we would never have been here today to dedicate our new icemaker.”
“Eric’s very impressed by what you’ve done in regard to Fred Phelps’ visit,” said Rubin. “How you’ve gone one step beyond and made good come from a crummy situation.”
“There are lessons to be learned from this,” said Medrano. “Everybody can make a difference in the midst of bad news.”
During a city budget crisis, she said she was delighted to be at the Resource Center celebrating the agency getting money from other sources. She thanked Phelps for helping the city take care of people with AIDS.
Josh Manes represented Beth El Binah. He was happy to see the government representatives celebrating at the Center.
“I remember a time when the city would have supported Phelps,” he said.
The plaque on the ice machine reads: “This machine is dedicated to the participants of ‘Hell Freezes
Over.’ Thank you for showing how the power of caring and compassion can triumph over hate. August 6, 2010.”
In one of their silliest choices of protest sites, the Phelps clan began their day of nonsense at the Dallas Holocaust Museum. The museum marked record attendance that day as a result of the Phelps publicity.
Phelps was invited to attend the dedication ceremony by e-mail. He did not respond to the gracious invitation.
Here’s the press release that just came across from RCD’s Rafael McDonnell:
Dallas — Resource Center Dallas will hold a formal dedication August 6 (Friday) at 10 a.m. for an ice machine it bought as a result of its “Hell Freezes Over” counter-protest of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano is expected to attend.
WBC protested the Center and Congregation Beth El Binah, a mainstream Reform Jewish congregation which meets at the center, on July 9. The “Hell Freezes Over” fundraising counter-protest was launched July 1 and ran through July 19. Donors were asked to give 50 cents or a dollar a minute for the 30 minutes of the scheduled protest. The fundraiser raised nearly $11,000 and drew contributions from Texas and seven other states. It was the most successful counter-protesting fundraiser in Texas against WBC, and one of the most successful ever nationwide.
A plaque will also be unveiled in honor of the people who donated to “Hell Freezes Over” and to Westboro Baptist for serving as the donors’ inspiration.