On the 11th annual National Day of Silence, April 18, 2007, Erin Davies became a victim of a hate crime in Albany, New York.
Believed to have been triggered by her car bearing a rainbow sticker, Davies' car was vandalized with the words "fAg" and "u r gay" spray painted on virtually the entire body of her nearly new Volkswagen Bug.
Most people would have reported the crime, had the car spray painted and moved on with life.
Erin Davies, clearly, is not most people.
Rather than suffer in silence, Davies decided to transcend this experience and head out on a 58-day cross-country trip in her "fagbug," the vandalism intact and Davies intentionally venturing into areas where she knew such a message would not be well received.
"Fagbug," the documentary, is her story of transcending victimization and taking her message of tolerance and hope across the country.
"Fagbug" is a mixed bag.
An Official Selection at the 2009 Lake County Film Festival, "Fagbug" is, at times, an intriguing and enlightening story of America's response to such a hate crime. While Davies experiences a significant amount of support and admiration on her 58-day journey, she also comes face-to-face herself with the kinds of beliefs and attitudes that would foster such an action.
Yet, there are moments in "Fagbug" that undeniably dilute the film's impact, inadvertently, by portraying Davies as a bit starstruck by herself. These scenes, and there are more than one, only enhance an argument that one of Davies' early supporters brought up...that what began as a journey of hope was in danger of turning into not much more than a celebration of Davies herself.
For example, in one scene Davies has just offered a presentation and is speaking to a professional motivational speaker asking "Do you think I could do this for a living?" Predictably, the speaker gushes forth with praise for Davies, her story and her speaking.
To her credit, in another scene, Davies confronts the supporter I mentioned earlier for believing that Davies was really only out to profit from this event. Rather than put forth a convincing argument, however, Davies essentially dismisses this former "friend" and proceeds to point out how little money this event had actually brought in.
The interesting aspect of such an argument, however, is that the "Fagbug" journey wasn't a "fund-raiser" of any kind. Davies began selling "Fagbug" bumper stickers for $3.00 each with the self-stated goal of selling a million of them (NOTE: As of 3/14/2009, the "Fagbug" website notes that just over 1,000 have been sold).
Oh yeah, we REALLY believe it was about the "message."
It may, actually, have been about the message...the problem is that Davies organizes the film in such a way that the message too often gets lost in the glorification of Davies.
I really do.
It's an easy temptation. As someone who has traveled over 3,000 by wheelchair over the past 20 years in fund-raisers, I understand how easy it is to start buying into the hype.
Here's hoping that Davies grows to learn that "Fagbug" really isn't about her...it's about a society that allows hate to exist and the people who refuse to submit to it.
Indeed, Davies is ONE of those who chooses to resist.
Despite these quibbles, Davies does manage to often get to the heart of the matter. In two scenes in particular, one in Laramie, Wyoming and the other in Greencastle, Indiana, Davies manages to reach down deep and find two communities where hate obviously exists and, especially in Laramie, where even horrific hate crimes haven't managed to alter the course.
"Fagbug" is not the film it could have been. Unfortunately, too often Davies gets in the way of her stated objectives and "Fagbug" feels as much like a vanity project as it does a vehicle of change.
Davies, however, appears to be getting the message after nearly 2 years on the road. Having once stated that she would keep the slurs on her vehicle until she sold a million stickers, Davies finally wised up and realized that the continued presence of the slurs was itself a part of the problem. After Volkswagen donated a paint job, Davies has ended up with a far more powerful statement, a rainbow painted VW Bug with "Fagbug" proudly emblazoned on the side of the vehicle.
In a nation that just, rather miraculously, elected Barack Obama president, "Fagbug" is essentially a call to action and compassion, tolerance and understanding.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic