Photo: Shane Bitney Crone (left) and Tom Bridegroom on vacation in Paris
When 26-year-old Shane Bitney Crone posted a video to YouTube titled, "It Could Happen To You," on May 6, 2012, he never imagined the micro-documentary would snowball into a movement. Clocking in at just over 10 minutes, it tells the story of Bitney Crone's boyfriend, Tom Bridegroom, who had a fatal accident and how Bitney Crone was denied access to him by the hospital and Bridegroom's family wouldn't allow him to attend the funeral since he had no legal rights.
That YouTube clip inspired director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (Designing Women), one of over four million people who viewed the short film. She connected with Bitney Crone to make a feature-length documentary.
After premiering at this year's Tribeca Film Festival and screening around the country, the film, titled Bridegroom--which has a slew of celebrity endorsements that include Neil Patrick Harris, George Takei, and President Bill Clinton--makes its television debut on Oprah Winfrey's OWN this Sunday, October 27.
WATCH A SNEAK PEEK CLIP BELOW:
Bitney Crone's loss makes for emotionally gripping TV--and Bridegroom admittedly has its share of melodramatics--but it's the larger message about same-sex love and marriage equality that is surely going to influence audiences around the country. Bloodworth-Thomason peppers the film with Bitney Crone's video diaries and conducts interviews that are beautifully self-reflective . Curious about how the movie has continued to shape Bitney Crone, we spoke with him about the emotional trials in filming Bridegroom, what he hopes audiences will take away from the documentary, and whether or not he wants to find love again.
Out: After the viral success of "It Could Happen To You," why did you want to keep telling your story with Bridegroom?
Shane Bitney Crone: Well, I mean, the response from the YouTube video was incredible. I heard from thousands of teenagers who said that the video and the story gave them hope, and I heard from a lot of people who said that they never really understood why it's so important for [LGBT Americans] to have full equality and now they do just from watching the video and hearing the story. So, for me, just knowing that the YouTube video had that effect, I was hopeful that when the director Linda Bloodworth Thomason contacted me that the film would have the same effect--but hopefully on a much larger scale.
It seems that you've been a storyteller of sorts for awhile; there's video footage of you in your sophomore year of high school with a video diary. Why did you start documenting your life in the first place?
My mom got me a video camera when I was in junior high. For me, I felt alone growing up, and filming a video diary just kind of became an outlet for me, and it was something that provided comfort, but I never imagined that I would share them with anyone. On one level, it's embarrassing that I have so much footage, but at the same time, I'm so grateful that Tom and I filmed as much as we did because now I have that forever.
I don't think you could have a better person at your back for this film than Oprah Winfrey, am I right?
She's such an amazing woman, obviously, and for her to take the film and put it on her network, she's really going to help us reach so many people.
Did you have any reservations in making Bridegroom? Do you feel it possibly hindered your personal process of grief, or did it act as closure in the wake of Tom's death?
Even just posting "It Could Happen To You" scared me to death. I just felt like I needed to do it, and it honestly wasn't until I posted the video that I kind of started feeling like I was in a better place, and so for me, making this film, I was nervous how Tom's family would react--I'm not out to try and demonize them or make their lives horrible--so I was nervous about that and nervous about the backlash from people. But at the end of the day, I just had to trust my instincts. Now knowing the response and how it was connecting with people, with the YouTube video, I just felt like this is what I had to do.
There's a disclaimer at the film's close that you reached out to Tom's family and they did not want to participate. Now you say that you were nervous about their reaction to Bridegroom. Have you heard anything from them?
I have not. There's been numerous media outlets that have reached out to his parents, and they haven't responded to anyone. I was really hoping that they would participate in the documentary and that they would see the bigger picture and see it as a way to honor their son, and unfortunately, they just never responded. I do like to make it a point that there are members of Tom's family that do support me and do support this film, and, unfortunately, they didn't feel like they could participate because it is their family that's being represented. It's a tough spot for them to be in.
One of my favorite parts of the film is your closing line saying that the grave's elaborate headstone was a lesser monument to Tom than Tom was a monument to his parents. You say that you would tell Tom's parents that if you could. Do you hope to speak with them again or to ever have a relationship with his mother again?
Really, I have no anger in my heart towards them, and I am open to speaking to them again at some point in my life, but if it does happen, I don't think that it will be for quite some time.
How do you feel watching the completed film? Does it inspire you, upset you?
I've seen the film many, many times. Every time I see it, it does bring up so many emotions for me, but if anything, it inspires me and it motivates me to continue standing up for what I believe in and standing up for Tom. Just watching it, it reminds me how fortunate I am to have such a supportive family and group of friends.
Now to backtrack at bit, it covers in the movie how you wrote this love letter of sorts to your best friend in high school, Matt, and that led to pretty malicious bullying. You say in the film that one of the things that got you through that period was the thought that there's someone out there who will love you for you. Obviously, the idea is that person was Tom. At this stage in your life, going through a different kind of grief, what is it that gets you through it?
I definitely wanted to get out and move away, and the idea of meeting someone really did get me through that time, but at the same time, I didn't believe that I was really worthy of being loved. Meeting Tom helped me in so many ways. I think now, after losing him, it's helped me so much to really focus on being okay with who I am. It's not always easy, but I'm just trying not to be ashamed and I'm trying to be proud and trying to show people that it's OK to be who you are.
I think one question that's on a lot of people's minds is simply: "What now?" For the past six or seven years, Tom has been your life in that he was always there for you and he helped you find yourself and he helped you be happy with yourself. Even in his death, it seems, through Bridegroom, he's continued to be your life. Now that the film is over, where do you find yourself, and where do you see yourself going from here?
Yeah, I mean, everything that's happened since his accident has just kind of been unimaginable, and I don't necessarily know what happens next, but I do know that just by sharing this story, it's helping so many people, and I feel like as long as it's helping people, I have a responsibility to continue sharing this story and that this is bigger than me. And so whether that's going around speaking, going around screening the film, I'll continue sharing the story. With all of this, I'm just trying to trust that everything will happen the way that it's supposed to organically, and I'm just trying to be in the moment with it all and make the most of it.
And obviously there will never come a time when you're living without Tom in your heart, and he will always be a part of your life, but do you hope to find love again?
Immediately following Tom's death, just the idea of ever being with someone else made me nauseous, and I couldn't imagine it, but as time has gone on, I know that Tom would want me to be happy, and I know that he wouldn't want me to be alone if I did meet somebody. But, you know, with Tom, I wasn't searching for him--it just happened. I think that if I do meet someone, I'm not going to try and look for it. It's interesting, even just a few months after he passed away, there were a lot of people who were asking me if I was dating, but losing Tom has definitely changed my life in so many ways, and I'm still trying to heal. I don't know what will happen, but we'll see.
So have you been dating at all?
I have not, no. I haven't dated anyone since he passed away, but I think one of the main things throughout all of this was just that losing Tom made me realize that I really need to focus on being the best person that I can be. He was always trying to encourage me to accept myself and love myself and I still struggle with that. I know I'm never going to be okay with loving everything about myself, but I'm really working on that right now. I think that that's important before I do potentially get into another relationship.
Bridegroom premieres on OWN this Sunday, October 27.
WATCH Shane's Parents Discussing Learning He Was Gay:
Sneak Peek: Bridegroom Subject's Parents Discuss Learning That He Was Gay
While Shane Bitney Crone's parents may have been surprised to learn that their son was gay, they quickly came to terms with his sexuality and continue to offer him unconditional love and support.
Learn more about Shane's relationship with his parents and the tragedy that he has turned into a triumphant message about equality and human rights on the network television premiere of Bridegroom on Sunday October 27, at 10/9c.
Click here to return to the Bridegroom homepage.