We were all profoundly touched last year when Shane Bitney Crone shared his story of love and loss on YouTube with his video, It Could Happen To You. In the video, Crone tells of his love with Tom Bridegroom and how that love abruptly ended with a simple accident when Bridegroom fell off an apartment building roof and died from those injuries.
The story doesn’t end there as Crone went on to explain how Bridegroom’s family, who had never accepted their son being gay, shut Crone out of their lives after Tom’s death – including keeping him from attending Tom’s funeral by threatening him with violence.
The response from It Could Happen To You was huge (the video currently has over 4 million views) and now that 10 minute 39 second video has been transformed to a full-length documentary, Bridegroom. The film was written and directed by Linda Bloodworth Thomason (creator, Designing Women).
After a successful run on the film festival circuit, Bridegroom will be airing on the OWN network this Sunday after a new Oprah’s Next Chapter where Oprah Winfrey talks with out performers Wanda Sykes, Dan Bucatinsky and Jesse Tyler Ferguson about their experiences being gay in America.
We talked with Crone recently about the message he’s sending with Bridegroom and just how he and the film landed on Oprah Winfrey’s radar.
TheBacklot: What a journey you’ve been on in the last couple years.
Shane Bitney Crone: It’s been a wild ride, but it’s pretty incredible that there are so many positive things happening from it all.
TBL: I went back and watched the video on YouTube. When was the last time you looked at it? Do you realize people are still leaving comments on that page?
SBC: My sister told me that and at first I used to read a lot of the comments and then there were so many hurtful comments that I just tried to stop reading things. But apparently, with all the news recently there’s more and more people watching it, but it’s wonderful to think that there are people that are still watching the video.
TBL: And now the film is going to air on the OWN network…
SBC: For me to have the network watch it and for Oprah to want air it on her network is a tremendous honor, and I still can’t believe that it’s happening. But I’m just grateful because it’s going to help us reach so many people that we would have not been able to reach before.
TBL: How has the YouTube video and then the movie helped you heal from all of this? In watching it, I couldn’t help but think that you’re also reliving this every time you watch it or talk about it.
SBC: Even the few months before I posted the YouTube video, I spent a lot of time working on it and just putting that together was very healing and then to post it and have such a popular response and see how it was resonating with people, that definitely helped me in a lot of ways. Then launching the Kickstarter campaign and spending almost a year in the edit bay working on the film, it wasn’t always easy, and it can be hard at times watching a lot of the footage, but if I sit back and just think about what’s happening there really are so many incredible things.
And just hearing from teenagers who are suicidal and then they chose to not take their own life just from hearing the story or at a festivals there are straight men that have come up to me and said, ‘My girlfriend, she drug me here and I didn’t even know what I was getting into and I have to say that I used to be against marriage equality, but now we get it.’ I really do think that’s helping me heal in so many ways.
TBL: Is it safe to say that you still have not heard from Tom’s family, even now that all this press has been going on about the film and it airing on OWN?
SBC: I haven’t heard from Tom’s parents. I do communicate with some of his relatives who are supportive of me and the film but unfortunately I haven’t heard from his parents. I don’t know if they even know what’s happening with the film premiering on OWN, but we did reach out to them to participate in the documentary and they never responded.
TBL: What do you hear most from people who have seen the film? I saw a lot of the YouTube comments were people sharing their loss, but tell me what you’ve been hearing.
SBC: I knew that this message probably happened to thousands of people but I never imagined that it happened to so many people. For me I heard from a lot of people [who] have gone through similar experiences that are worse scenarios, where they don’t even know where their partner’s buried to this day.
So, for me, this film, although it’s my story, and Linda’s film and my film, it’s really not. It’s really the people’s film, because it does represent all of these other people who’ve gone through these horrible experiences.
TBL: How did Linda come to the Bridegroom project?
SBC: Ironically, Tom and I went to a mutual friend’s wedding, it was in 2008, and that night we talked about how Tom and I wanted to get married someday and it was just a really nice evening and we’d gotten to know her and then fast forward four years and I got the phone call from her after she saw the YouTube video and she convinced me that this was a story that needed to be told, and she wanted to be the one to tell it.
For me, I had to think about it for a few days and after talking to her more and just hearing her own personal story how her mom passed away, that she was a victim of transfused AIDS [and] she witnessed the discrimination that a lot of gay men faced because of the way her mom was treated. So, this wasn’t just some Hollywood director wanting to make a film. This is a woman who is very passionate about equality and this is very personal for her, so I felt like she was the perfect person to tell the story.
’Love is love’ is clearly the message of Bridegroom.
TBL: How do you feel about where we are with marriage equality? Now we can get married in California and New Jersey just passed…
SBC: I was at the Supreme Court the day of the ruling where they overturned Prop. 8 and it was definitely a very special experience being outside there surrounded by so many people that have been fighting so hard for this and a little bittersweet just knowing that Tom and I were unable to get married and now we can in California.
Personally, I think we still have a lot of work ahead of us and it is going to be up to each state and I hope Bridegroom can help in this movement and we can continue to go state by state and make marriage possible for everyone. It might take a lot longer than it should but I think that it’s just a matter of time.
TBL: I personally connected to the story because I’m from Indiana (Bridegroom was born and raised in Indiana), so as soon as the film mentioned Culver Military Academy (where Bridegroom went to school) I knew exactly where Culver was. I didn’t go there but I do know it can be tough to grow up gay in Indiana.
SBC: That’s the interesting thing too. Tom’s family really isn’t that different from my family in a lot of ways, in the sense [of] their beliefs, their political views, and so to see my family, who is very, very supportive of me – which I didn’t necessarily know that they would be when I came out – and then to see Tom’s family’s reaction, it just goes to show how important it is for a parents to love their children unconditionally.
Bridegroom airs Sunday at 10pm on OWN right after Oprah’s Next Chapter, which airs at 9pm on OWN.