playwright Tony Kushner has proudly worn many
labels--Democratic political activist, gay
rights advocate, witty public speaker, and now modest
The writer, whose
credits include the Pulitzer Prize-winning play
Angels in America, the Tony-awarded musical
currently playing in London, Caroline, or
Change, and the film Munich, is the focus
of the documentary Wrestling With Angels.
The film was
released in New York City and will open across the
United States in November and December. But such is his
reticence that Kushner, 50, still hasn't seen the
"I don't think I
am going to," he told Reuters in his small Manhattan
office, crammed with books. "I just don't like looking at
The up-close look
at Kushner by documentarian Freida Lee Mock follows his
life between 2001 and 2004, beginning with his controversial
play on Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks,
Homebody/Kabul, and ending with his stumping for
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
"I didn't need
[the documentary] as an advocate for myself. I didn't
feel that my reputation would grow or diminish by virtue of
this being made," he said.
Wearing a T-shirt
emblazoned with "O Democracy," from a quote he
credited to American poet Walt Whitman, Kushner is far from
modest about his political beliefs. The film follows
him to public speaking engagements and fund-raisers
where he often uses poetic language to express his
feelings about injustice.
"I have basically
always been politically involved," he said, noting he
has descended from a "spectacular history of Jewish moral
and ethical engagement in the world."
Mock, who won an
Oscar for her 1994 documentary Maya Lin: A Clear
Vision, first spotted Kushner delivering a
one-minute speech at an American university. "Everyone
was stunned by his incredible humor and depth of ideas,"
said Mock, who is not surprised he had not watched the
film. "He is politically and socially engaged, but he
is actually a shy person, and yet he is a public
figure. So at the core it is a little uncomfortable."
The film touches
on Kushner's personal life. He speaks about grappling at
age 20 with being gay and trying to change his sexual
orientation through psychotherapy. Later, it shows
scenes from his unofficial gay wedding to his partner.
It also shows his more public side, as an AIDS activist and
vocal opponent of the Bush administration.
"I felt that no
one as completely unqualified for the presidency had
ever occupied that position," Kushner said, adding that the
"national trauma" of the 2000 election followed by the
September 11 attacks led to a turning point in
"The path of
human history and human rights and certainly life on the
planet is hanging in the balance. If we don't rise to these
challenges, then we are really dooming ourselves," he
Kushner is unfazed about the level of celebrity a
playwright can achieve, even after being the subject of a
documentary. "I'm pretty well-known for a playwright,
which is to say, not all that well," he said. "There
are many writers that are much more famous than me."