By Michael Regula
Originally published on Advocate.com October 25 2013 5:00 AM ET
Two years ago, Thomas Bridegroom accidentally fell to his death from a four-story building, leaving behind his partner, Shane Bitney Crone. In a viral video tribute, Crone chronicled his battle with Bridegroom’s parents simply to see Crone in the hospital as he lay dying and safely attend the funeral of his most beloved.
Crone’s journey and the couple’s life together is the subject of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s documentary, Bridegroom, airing Sunday on OWN and Netflix. Bloodworth-Thomason’s film tells Crone and Bridegroom’s remarkable, gripping story from their small-town, conservative upbringings to their enviable six-year romance and ultimate untimely separation.
The couple met Bloodworth-Thomason in a chance encounter at a mutual friend’s wedding in 2008, an encounter that would rattle Bloodworth-Thomason years later when she heard the devastating news about Bridegroom's death.
Bridegroom weaves a deep and complete story through honest interviews with family and friends, and an abundance of home video footage of the two young lovers. Bloodworth-Thomason encapsulates the story with the precision of a cinematic surgeon, leaving a heartbreaking and vivid portrait of two men in their most formative years, as they forge a devoted relationship and take one unforgettable journey.
Yet, despite the sadness of the story, Bridegroom serves to uplift the viewer in an emotional plea for progress that cannot help but inspire. Two years after his partner’s death, Crone manages to overcome the sadness and anger, with his drive to broaden rights for all same-sex couples.
The Advocate: This film is obviously aiming to change the viewer’s feelings about love and marriage, but it's hard not to take from it a bigger meaning about life and spirituality, because there’s just too much coincidence involved. Are you ever overcome by that feeling, that it’s just too much?
Shane Bitney Crone: Well, yes. I didn’t always believe that everything happens for a reason, but after Tom passed away, there are just so many things … like when I met with the director and she was talking about his last name, she was like, "This is just crazy, how ironic his last name is Bridegroom." I always knew his last name was different, but I never thought about that. So that was kind of the first moment that I realized this might be something that is bigger than us, and maybe it was meant to be.
When I found out what Tom’s last name was, I immediately thought, This just can’t be coincidence. This is meant to be.
Right. And there’s some people that have even seen the film at festivals and thought that we’d put Bridegroom on the gravestone, and no. [Smiles] That’s really his last name.
When Linda reached out to you after Tom’s passing, was that the first contact you had with her since the wedding where you met?
It’s bizarre that we talked about marriage at a friend’s wedding, and then four years later — I had run into her randomly at restaurants or whatever — but that was the first time that we spent any time talking. And for me, I was honored that she wanted to make the documentary, and it wasn’t just some Hollywood director wanting to make a movie, it was someone that was passionate about equality … I felt like she was a perfect person to tell the story.
At first I questioned why you had so much footage of yourself, especially after seeing the YouTube video diaries. However on seeing the film, it clicked, and it was instantly, Oh, this guy’s been doing this his entire life.
A lot of that footage was embarrassing. Even just singing in the car and a lot of stuff like that, that I never thought anyone would see. But the director, Linda, thought it was important for people to see that side and to show that I have documented so much of my life … a lot of that footage — I filmed it but never watched it. And so when she asked me to give her all the video footage I had, I almost wished I would have prescreened some of it, but it is what it is.
Tom’s mom is obviously the most unsettled person in the film, and it’s difficult not to have some compassion for her, as it’s apparent she’s being pulled apart by some strong opposing forces.
I think a lot of it has to do with the upbringing and just religious beliefs and the just small-town mentality, and I know that she has struggled with it. I’d hoped that she’d come around after he passed away and everything happened, but I’ve never heard from her.
I heard somewhere that you were thinking about sending a copy of the film to them, have you actually done that?
I want to send them the film once we have a DVD of it, and I don’t know if they’ll watch it, but I just feel like it’s the right thing to do. I think they’ll be surprised, though, that we didn’t try to demonize them and just tried to tell the story and let it speak for itself. Because they did do a lot for him. They sacrificed a lot. And I wanted that to be in the film and so did the director, because I think it shows that parents want to love their children unconditionally, but there are other factors that cause them to struggle.
Your mom recieved a lengthy standing ovation at the film's L.A. premiere — how did that make you feel, and how did that make her feel?
That was emotional for both of us. For me it was just amazing, but I’m so glad she was there, and [that she could] see how amazing she is. I don’t necessarily even know if she knows how wonderful she is, and how incredible it is to have a mom that loves you unconditionally. We laughed in the car ride home, because she was like, “I was just standing there. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there and waved.” It was amazing, and yeah, a very powerful moment.
Where were you when the Supreme Court rulings came down this summer?
I was actually outside the Supreme Court. I was there. I wanted to be there, and that was an incredible day — the energy around there, and the hundreds and hundreds of people. It was bittersweet in a lot of ways, but overall I was just happy. ... It was an experience I’ll never forget, just being there.
In the film we get to see you travel to the Taj Mahal. What’s next?
Yeah, the Taj Mahal was the one we wanted to visit next, and then the Great Wall of China. I don’t know when that will happen, but I definitely want to continue knocking out our list... For me, just going to India was such a huge step for me, and even on the first night I got there, I was just thinking that I don’t know if I can do this. It was just so hard for me. But then just being there and going to the Taj Mahal, I felt like he was a part of it, I felt like he was there in a way.
How was it finding out that Oprah wanted to air Bridegroom on her network?
So much that has happened is so unimaginable, but to have her support, it’s huge. Just for her to believe in the film is an honor, but I’m just so grateful because it’s really going to help us reach a lot of people that we wouldn’t have been able to reach.
Bridegroom premieres on Netflix and OWN Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Pacific. Watch the trailer below: