Family Fundamentals – Filmmaker’s Viewpoint

On June 26, 2003, the United States Supreme Court overturned Texas sodomy law. From the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes: “…for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral. The condemnation has been shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for the traditional family. …Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.”

And from the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia contests: “The Texas stature undeniably seeks to further the belief of its citizens that certain forms of sexual behavior are ‘immoral and unacceptable’ – the same interest furthered by criminal laws against fornication, bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity. …Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.”

Kennedy’s and Scalia’s disagreement presents a striking example of public debates regarding gay issues – debates that have sparked fierce culture wars about whether homosexuality should be condemned, tolerated, or celebrated. And in November 2003, just a few months after the sodomy decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court set off yet another onslaught of debates when they ordered the state’s legislature to pass a law to allow same-sex marriages. Public and private confrontations over homosexuality have now escalated – at places of worship, at school board meetings, in voting booths, in Congress, and in families. The need for opposing groups to work together toward a shared sense of social justice has become increasingly vital.

Family Fundamentals was motivated by a desire to address this need. The film looks into the most universal of social institutions, the family, to explore interpersonal and ideological differences. I wanted to use personal stories as microcosms of the larger social and political struggles being fought in the public sphere and to offer a more compassionate perspective on an issue that continues to tear apart not only families, but also communities and our nation.
While there are certainly families that have resolved their differences, I chose the stories in Family Fundamentals precisely because they illustrated the difficult situations where intensely committed people are in disagreement. I’m not interested in painting broad strokes; I’m not interested in presenting stereotypes. Particularly, I’m not interested in patronizing viewers. My films don’t tend to offer easy solutions, but rather, they’re more about asking questions, about encouraging audience members to participate in a dialogue, and to seek answers on their own.

As I traveled across America to accompany screenings of Family Fundamentals, I’d hear remarks like: “This is a film I can watch with my family.” This sentiment came from a wide spectrum of people: gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered men and women, non-gays, conservative parents, and fundamentalist church leaders. One veteran gay activist in Houston observed that, for the first time, he saw his “opponents” as three-dimensional beings. An Assembly of God pastor in San Diego showed the film to his congregation because he wanted people to witness the gay community as human and to stop treating them with disdain. His son, also a pastor, apologized for the mean spiritedness of some religious sectors.

These “small” steps towards civil understanding between differing groups were the very least I had hoped for when I began work on Family Fundamentals. For some people, these shifts of perception may not be radical enough, but my goal was to produce a film about gay issues that viewers with divergent beliefs can experience without conjuring their worst nightmares about each other. My aim was to provide a way for people on all sides, and especially the many in-between, to at least listen in a thoughtful setting rather than in rhetorical debates. The culture wars over homosexuality will forge ahead for all of us, whether we choose to be a part of it or not. With Family Fundamentals, I hope to approach the conflict through hearts and minds – to plant the seeds of change that will make it possible for equal justice to prevail.

Arthur Dong
April 2004