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American playwright Tony Kushner has proudly worn many labels--Democratic political activist, gay rights advocate, witty public speaker, and now modest film subject.
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 film.
"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 myself."
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 history.
"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 said.
Politics aside, 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." (Reuters)