When Shane Bitney Crone posted a video called It Could Happen To You on YouTube in 2012, it was inconceivable to him that it would become such an internet sensation, not to mention a potential watershed moment in the struggle for LGBT equality. “I thought maybe a few thousand people would see it,” Crone says now. “Maybe friends in Los Angeles and the gay community, but I didn’t expect it to spread like it did.”
The video, which depicted the heartbreak and loss Crone felt after the tragic accident that claimed his partner Tom Bridegroom and the aftermath of being kept away from Tom in the hospital because they weren’t married and the funeral due to threats of violence from Tom’s family, was viewed by millions around the world who contacted Crone to share empathy and relate their own similar stories. It also caught the attention of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (who created and wrote Designing Women) who’d met the young couple years before at a wedding, ironically, and decided to turn it into a feature documentary.
The result is the ironically- and perfectly-titled Bridegroom, an emotional and often-humorous true love story that so moved former President Bill Clinton, a longtime friend of the director’s, that he introduced it at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring. The documentary will make its television premiere on Oprah‘s OWN network tonight at 10 p.m. following an episode of Oprah‘s Next Chapter devoted to LGBT equality and is also streaming on Netflix and a DVD release is scheduled for Nov. 19. Crone, who is sweet, witty and surprisingly uncynical considering what he’s endured, chatted with Queerty the morning after the film’s star-studded Los Angeles premiere about the impact his story has had on people around the world.
Every time you attend a screening of Bridegroom or talk to the media, you’re forced to relive the most traumatic events of your life again. Does it ever get easier?
It was really hard at first in the edit bays, looking at the footage and constantly talking about everything and revisiting the worst moments of my life. Then after posting the YouTube video and seeing the response from people and learning how it was helping people it made it easier to watch it. When I go to festivals now I don’t typically watch the film each time because it is still emotional for me. I usually just stand outside and wait. It’s definitely easier watching it now since I’ve seen it so many times, but it’s not easy necessarily.
Apart from Tom’s death and the aftermath, you also have to once again endure the painful bullying you experienced as a gay teenager. That must be just as painful.
A lot of the footage from high school is quite awkward and you can tell that I was quite lost. When I watch it now it just makes me appreciate that I’ve come so far. It makes it less embarrassing to know that at that time I didn’t think things would ever get better but they did so it makes me feel good.
Has anyone in Tom’s family seen the film and contacted you?
There are a few of his relatives who have seen it and they’re supportive and believe in it. They’ve told me they think Tom would have been proud of it. I’m going to respect them by not saying who they are. It’s a tough position when you’re in a small town and you don’t want to lose your family so I understand why they want to keep it private. I haven’t heard from his parents, just other relatives who think Tom would have been proud of it. Of course, they don’t want anyone attacking Tom’s parents. I hope people don’t, because that won’t help anything.
Yes and we reached out to them numerous times, but we never heard back from them. After the YouTube video went viral several media outlets contacted them, but they didn’t respond. They’ve remained silent and that’s probably what they’ll continue to do. With support from Oprah I feel that will make it hard for them to ignore that it’s out there.
You don’t seem to harbor resentment toward the Bridegrooms. How challenging has it been to forgive them?
It was hard at first. I was just trying to understand how they could do what they did to me. I couldn’t understand it and it hurt. There were moments of anger and frustration. I don’t want to treat them the way they treated me. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child so I’ve tried to be compassionate. I wish them the best and I don’t wish any harm upon them. I hope they see this as an opportunity to change. They could help a lot of people just by saying they made mistakes and honoring their son for who he was. I hope at some point they have a change of heart.
What does it mean for your film to have Oprah premiere it on her network?
Throughout this entire experience so much has happened but it’s still unimaginable that it’s gong to premiere on her network. I’m so grateful because her support of the film will help spread the message in a way that would not have been possible without her. To know that she believes in the film and the message, it’s just incredible. It’s a tremendous honor.
Bill Clinton, who’s a friend of Linda’s, has been a vocal supporter of the film, which surprised a lot of people considering controversial decisions he made during his presidency.
I’ve met President Clinton a couple of times now. He introduced our film at the Tribeca Film Festival. Just to get into that festival is amazing and to have his support is incredible. There are a lot of people who are still upset with him due to his past decisions, but I think what matters is he’s using his voice and his platform now to help us. For him to support this film is a huge step and I think it will help us reach a lot of people.
Did you two actually chat and discuss the film?
Yes. He told me that it moved him and that he was proud he was of me. He told me how fortunate I am to have such a supportive family. For him, one of the things he took away was how Tom and I both grew up in small towns but it’s almost as if our parents could be friends yet they reacted in such different ways. He really thought that was powerful. To show people how important it is for parents to love their children unconditionally he said he was proud to support it.
Out of everything that’s happened and that you’ve heard, what’s been the most surprising reaction to the film?
I’ve heard from teenagers in different parts of the world who are suicidal, but they watched the YouTube and said it gave them hope and prevented them from taking their own lives. When I hear stories like that, it makes me feel a responsibility to share the story if that’s the affect it’s having. It’s surprising how so many people don’t realize this is still happening.
Watch a clip from Bridegroom below.