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Why 8 Works

8 went live on the American Foundation for Equal Rights’ YouTube channel at 7:30pm PST Saturday evening.  Within half an hour, more than 30,000 people from around the world were watching the video streaming from Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles.  8, written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Rob Reiner, is a dramatic reenactment of the California court battle against Proposition 8.  Prop 8 being, of course, that hateful bit of legislature that ripped the right to marry out of the hands of the state’s same-sex couples.

8 exists purely because the defense didn’t want the world to know what actually happened in that courtroom.  They had the planned livestream of the trial struck down and have since done everything in their power to keep video footage from reaching the public.  Too bad for them that they couldn’t do the same to the transcripts.

Not only did their opposition turn those transcripts into a stage play, they went and cast it with as many big names as they could find. From A-list Oscar winners, to the powerhouses of television and Broadway—and even the voice of Miss Lisa Simpson—some of the finest actors available stood up, added their voices to the cause, and made the play a masterpiece.

Like Reiner said during curtain call, that actual video footage might have aired on C-SPAN, if it aired at all, but who would have watched it?  Oh, certainly some people will actually sit down and watch lawyers and politicians debate the relative value of other people’s lives—I know I’ve done it a few times.  When it’s your life they’re debating, it matters.  It matters a lot.  But those aren’t the people AFER is trying to reach.

The people who need to see 8 aren’t even the lobbyists spewing their vitriol and made-up studies; they’re much too far-gone.  8 needs to reach the general public, the people who would care if only they understood the real issues at stake.  The people whose hearts and minds are still open to change.  And that is precisely what AFER achieved this weekend.

It wasn’t just the YouTube effect.  As great as social media is, it alone couldn’t have driven that kind of viewership for something seen as a niche cause.  In a sense, it was the power of fandom that did it.  Not many people will take time out of their day to watch a stranger in a courtroom.  But George Clooney? Martin Sheen?  You bet.  Jamie Lee Curtis? Sure. Can we get some Broadway geeks in here for Rory O’Malley? Or, hey, isn’t this cool?  Brad Pitt’s doing live theatre!  OMG it’s George Takei!  Is that Chief Webber from Grey’s Anatomy? Why is Sue Sylvester saying such hateful things?  Gee, Mr. Schue, take my heart out and stomp on it, why don’t you?

Ahem.  You see?  AFER needed reach, and fandom gave it to them.  Heck, I care about this stuff, and I wouldn’t even have known about this play if the fine people of the internet hadn’t plastered Chris Colfer’s name all over it (he also ripped my heart out and drop-kicked it, just so you know).

But what worked—really worked—is that the actors drew the viewers in, but refused to let them forget that this was real.  Everyone read from scripts held in their hands.  As powerfully and immediately as every single actor delivered his or her lines, we were not meant to forget that they were acting as someone else’s voice.  To paraphrase the bumbling David Blankenhorn, as played to devastating hilarity by John C. Reilly, the actors of 8 were only transmitters of other people’s words, other people’s opinions, and other people’s lives.  And those people, for better or worse, are real.

More than anything—or at least equally to monetary funding—the same-sex marriage cause needs dialogue.  It needs people outside the LGBT community to join the discussion and try to understand.  And what makes 8 so fantastic is that it’s promoting just that.  In my fandom alone, fics, fanart and meta discussions about same-sex marriage poured in this weekend (even more than usual, considering it’s a slash fandom).  We all know that fandom is full of dedicated, vocal, motivated people, and anything that directs all that energy towards something good and meaningful sounds like a win to me.

Seeing the effects in your fandom?  Think I’m way off base?  Tell me about it in the comments!

The recording of 8 will be up on the AFER YouTube channel for the rest of the week, HERE.

Let’s keep that view count climbing, because no matter where you live or who you love, it’s a very worthwhile 90 minutes.


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