Randy and Fenton: The Wonder Years
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the names Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, you've undoubtedly seen many of their numerous LGBT-friendly projects. Their decades-spanning resumé includes innovative television programs that includes The RuPaul Show (the glamazon's 1990s talk show), dozens of groundbreaking, scintillating documentaries, such as The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Gay Republicans, and this year's Becoming Chaz, even theatrical films like Party Monster, the outrageous 2003 drama about murderer Michael Alig. Through their World of Wonder production company, the two producing-directing partners have created many of the most indelible LGBT images in recent entertainment history. Barbato and Bailey chat with The Advocate about working with Chaz Bono, helping to introduce transgender issues to the world, and their latest project, the powerful new political exposé The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which premieres September 19 on HBO).
The Advocate: For your new documentary The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, you’ve interviewed some of the most important and influential people in the struggle for equality. Who or what most impressed you?
Randy Barbato: Of course, the anonymous soldiers who have been putting their lives on the line for us all were endlessly inspiring. Also, as we got deeper into tracking the course to repeal, what was impressive was that there were so many layers of heroism. There were countless individuals and organizations involved in the road to repeal. To actually witness all the pieces come together and to experience the system finally working as pretty awesome.
You must have uncovered a lot of new information while making the film. What most surprised you?
Fenton Bailey: Actually, it was some of the old information that was surprising. Watching the 93 hearings on gays in the military was sobering and at times shocking. Seeing such hateful homophobia on display in the capitol was a painful reminder of the institutionalization of hypocrisy.
Barbato: Ultimately we were surpassed by the warmth and compassion we found at the department of defense in terms of participating and supporting this film. While it took a very long time for them to come on board, once they did they were great. It’s as if they were eager to atone for their sins.
Becoming Chaz certainly resonated with audiences. It scored huge ratings for OWN and eventually received three Emmy nominations. What would you say has been most gratifying about the success of the film?
Bailey: The most gratifying aspect of making Becoming Chaz has been its contribution towards fighting transphobia, introducing more of America and the world to trans people and trans issues. It’s always great when we get the opportunity to make a film that shines a light on ideas or people who are either misunderstood, marginalized, or ignored.
Barbato: The other gratifying thing about making the film was becoming close to Chaz. He’s a great guy.
You’ve been making wonderful films for so many years and they’ve reflected every facet of the LGBT experience. What do you look for now when deciding on a project?
Bailey: Wow, that’s very nice of you to say. It’s hard to say what we look for. The projects find us. We see ourselves in so much of our work, not that we plan to transition or join the Navy. It’s just that we identify with the judged, the misunderstood, and the marginalized.
Earlier this year you two were honored with Outfest’s Achievement Award. Though you’re both still in your prime as filmmakers, what would you name as your proudest accomplishment so far?
Barbato: Our proudest accomplishment is that we are still here. Actually having worked together for so long has been the most rewarding thing of all.
Watch the trailer for The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell below.