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Celluloid Activist - The Life And Times Of Vito Russo

by Bill Biss
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Tuesday May 10, 2011
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From the atrocity of lives lost in the outbreak of AIDS, to the front lines of activism in the fight for human rights for all LGBT people, Vito Russo was there. He was not only there but an amazingly charismatic, passionate and intelligent voice of involvement. His life (cut short from AIDS at the age of 44) reads like a timeline of a very important part of our gay history. As we look over the ashes of those lost to AIDS, the rights that have been granted us and the ever-shifting sands of public perception, look back with respect, love and admiration on his life in "Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo".

Author Michael Schiavi painstakingly creates a vivid portrait with his biography of Russo. The first love and constant passion of Vito Russo, right alongside his activism, was his love for movies. Hence Schiavi’s title for the book, as film buffs and cinema scholars continue to utilize his groundbreaking exploration of gays and lesbians portrayed in film with Russo’s book, "The Celluloid Closet."

Vito Russo described a crucial part of his beliefs in writing "The Celluloid Closet" by saying, "The big lie about lesbians and gay men (in Hollywood movies) is that we do not exist. To see homosexuality as a dirty secret is something we all learned as children, both gays and straights. We have cooperated for a very long time in the maintenance of our own invisibility. And now the party is over."

In recognition of his early beginnings as an activist on the ground floor of organizations such as Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Russo deserves much respect in bringing forth his own spirit and contributions to making a difference and bringing a unique voice to the battles fought, won and lost.

As many of us swing heartily into the Pride season, it is with great hope that we continue to honor our legacy. "The Celluloid Activist: Life and Times of Vito Russo" by Michael Schiavi is a memorable and crucial book to read, reflect on and acknowledge in any season.

by Michael Schiavi

Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press. Publication Date: May 10, 2011. Pages: 320. Price: $29.95. Format: Hardcover Original. ISBN: 978-0-299-282-301

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