Director Cynthia Wade and producer Vanessa Roth were among the winners at the 80th Annual Academy Awards yesterday, taking home a statue for Best Documentary Short Subject for the short film Freeheld.
This was the first Oscar nomination for Wade and Roth.
Freeheld documents the struggle of New Jersey Detective Lieutenant Laurel Hester in her effort to transfer her pension to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree.
With less than six months to live as cancer spreads to her brain, Laurel battles the Ocean County Freeholders, her elected officials, to give to Stacie what heterosexual married couples receive automatically.
Hester served her community as a police officer for 25 years.
A dying wish of Hester was that the documentary film made of her last days as she battled against cancer – and the ‘freeholders’ of Ocean County in New Jersey – would be able to compete for an Oscar.
Not only has that wish been fulfilled, but the film scored the win in a category full of outstanding films.
Alternating from packed public demonstrations to quiet, tender moments of Hester and Andree at home, the 38-minute film tells both the public story of their fight and the intimate story of Laurel and Stacie facing the reality of losing each other.
At the time New Jersey law allowed, but did not require, local authorities to extend “domestic partner benefits” to lesbian and gay couples.
But nine months after the death of Lt Hester the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be granted the same rights as married heterosexual couples.
“I hope this film will inspire someone,” Lt Hester explained in December 2005, six weeks before she passed away.
“I hope it gives them courage if they’re dealing with discrimination, as I have… I hope if they have a terminal disease they somehow get hope from listening to my story.”
“We are thrilled that this powerful film, one that has the potential to change hearts and minds concerning fairness for gay couples, has been honoured tonight with a well-deserved Academy Award,” said GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano.
“We congratulate Cynthia Wade on her achievement and say ‘bravo’ to the Academy for their selection.”
In an interview with GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Media Damon Romine, Cynthia Wade, a straight ally, spoke to how the film documents a non-traditional community of support for Laurel.
“[I]n the film, the most, sort of staunchest allies that really stood by Laurel’s side were these straight, kind of dominating, macho cops that normally would not be considered gay allies,” said Wade.
“But because they saw one of their favourite police partners face discrimination, they realised it was wrong and said, ‘No, we’re going to stand up as a community and say this is wrong. It’s about equality.’
“So one of the greatest things about this film is that we’ve really been able to bring in hybrid audiences from across the country so that everybody can talk about equal rights because it’s everybody’s responsibility.”
Freeheld has won numerous previous awards, including a Short Filmmaking Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
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