Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom (yes, his name was actually Bridegroom) were in love and in a committed, faithful relationship for six years. They bought a home together, started a business together, and got a dog together. Then, one fateful day, in the prime of his life, Tom stumbled and fell off a roof to his death.
Shane went through the same immeasurable grief that anyone who loses the love of his or her life goes through. But for Shane, the pain was increased considerably by Tom’s family’s unwillingness to accept that their son’s partner was a man, not a woman.
Shane’s family has been supportive of who he is, but when Tom finally came out to his parents in Indiana, his father pulled a gun on him. His mother did befriend Shane for a while, but after she took Tom’s body back to Indiana, Shane never heard from her again.
Others in the family contacted Shane to let him know that Tom’s uncle and father would physically attack him if he showed up at the funeral. So, Shane was deprived of this closure and had to plan his own service in California.
Shortly before his death, Tom bought Shane a ring, but because the marriage equality law is in limbo in California, the two were not allowed to legally marry. This means that Shane had no rights under the law after Tom’s death.
Shane and Tom’s love story is now the subject of a documentary by television icon Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the creator of such TV series as “Designing Women” and “Evening Shade.” She also wrote some episodes of “M*A*S*H.”
The new film, aptly named “Bridegroom,” was only unveiled to the world last week at the Tribeca Film Festival but is already award-winning, having taken the Heineken Audience Award for best documentary at the fest.
Linda met Shane and Tom a few years ago through a mutual friend, and she became involved with the project after Shane posted a YouTube video about what he was going through in the hope that people would see how the current laws and attitudes affect people like him. The video went viral, and Linda contacted Shane about the possibility of making a documentary.
While he had other offers, Shane felt most connected to Linda. Her mother had died of transfused AIDS in the early days of the disease, so she went through a lot of the same stigmas that homosexuals experienced during that time.
A subsequent Kickstarter campaign collected more than $300,000 to fund the documentary. Several celebrities came on board after learning Shane and Tom’s story, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I spoke with Linda and Shane about their heartfelt documentary and their belief that cinema has the ability to change hearts and minds. “Even with the Civil Rights Act, you can change the law, but people really didn’t start to change until they saw ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?’ and ‘Roots,'” Linda said.
Since his YouTube video, Shane has received many messages from people around the world with heartbreaking stories. “I wasn’t in the room when my loved one died” was a common story. One man said, “I don’t know where my partner is buried; it’s been 17 years.”
At least it isn’t illegal to be gay in the U.S., but that isn’t the case everywhere in the world. “Some people I heard from, their partner is in jail for being gay or has even been killed,” Shane said.
Linda and Shane also hope the film will become a tool for young people to start a dialogue with their friends and families. “I think there are just hundreds of thousands and millions of kids around the world living lives of quiet desperation, so our goal was to make this film accessible to them and their families,” Linda said.
“I think that is how good and clear Shane and Tom’s love story is, and it’s inspirational,” she continued. “And I think a lot of gay young people will want to affiliate themselves with it…. I hope this can become the story that a lot of young people can hang their hats on and say, ‘Look at this – this is who I am; this is how I love.'”
“I know that what happened to me is really unfortunate,” Shane said, “but I also hope that they can see that life does get better after high school. I never imagined that I would find someone that would love me like Tom did, and I never imagined that we would be able to do so many things together like travel the world and start our family. So, I hope that teenagers that are struggling can see that great things like that can happen for them.”
“I think it’s obviously the civil rights issue of our era,” Linda added. “I feel deeply honored to be a part of this. I just feel very angry that so many millions of people have been treated so shabbily by another portion of the population, and it has to stop. We have to stop making children jump off bridges and hang themselves in quads. It’s madness! So, we hope our film can contribute to the demise of all that.”
Despite what happened with Tom’s parents, Shane remains open to communicating with them. “We both felt strongly that it’s important for Tom’s family to be a part of the film,” he said, “and we really wanted them to be interviewed. But unfortunately, we reached out to them, and we never heard from them. There were actually some relatives who wanted to be a part of the film, and they were willing to be interviewed. But they didn’t want to risk losing their family…. I don’t know if we will hear from them because even after the YouTube video went viral, CNN, ABC News, all these people were trying to contact them, and no one ever got through.”
Linda hopes people with stereotypical ideas of homosexuals will see the film and discover that most people in the gay population are just like everyone else. When she praised Shane and Tom as such virtuous young men, Shane said, “We definitely weren’t perfect by any means,” to which Linda said, “Shane would like to offer that caveat. He does get traffic tickets at least.”
Tom died less than two years ago, so they rushed to get the documentary done before the Supreme Court makes its decision about marriage equality. “We had no illusions that we’re so important that we’re affecting the justices on the Supreme Court,” Linda said, “but we wanted to be part of the dialogue. We wanted as many people to see this as could because I think a lot of people are at a tipping point with, ‘Enough already.'”
I asked Shane how he’s holding up after going through so much with only the second anniversary of Tom’s death coming in May. “Sometimes, it feels like it’s been a while, but then, one day it will feel like it just happened…,” he said. “It just makes you feel good that something positive came out of such tragedy. I’m just looking forward to people falling in love with Tom and seeing how amazing he was. So, that makes me really happy.”
“Shane has been incredibly brave through this entire process. He documented all of his grief, not intending to do anything with it but just as a way of staying close to Tom…,” Linda interjected. “It’s a very rare look at human grief.”
“Not only did she do a tremendous job on the story,” Shane said of Linda, “but she allowed me to be in the edit room and at the office and a part of it as much as I wanted to be.”
“He was a huge part of the film,” Linda said. “He has producing credit on this film, and it’s not a gift. He earned every bit of it.”
They’re hoping to get a distribution deal, of course, which is one of the points of the Tribeca Film Festival. “We already have a lot of support and a lot of interest,” Linda said. “Certainly, we’re not cocky, but we’re hopeful.” I’m sure the win at the Tribeca fest will help.
“I think people are going to be surprised that there’s a lot more to the story than just the accident,” Shane said, “and I really just hope that people walk away feeling glad that they saw it.”
I’m certainly glad I saw it. While the story is heartbreaking, it’s ultimately a story about love and about the desire to create positive change out of tragedy. I can’t recommend it enough.