“Two Spirits,” the award-winning documentary about the murder of a gay Cortez teen in 2001, will gain a national audience this summer when it is broadcast on PBS.
The film is scheduled to be shown June 14 on PBS stations across the country as part of the network’s “Independent Lens” series. The showing will take place almost exactly 10 years after the murder of 16-yearold Fred Martinez.
“Two Spirits” director and producer Lydia Nibley said the timing is right for the broadcast. June is Gay Pride Month, and “PBS wanted to honor that celebration,” she said.
“Two Spirits” uses the murder of Martinez to contrast the way that gender identity is viewed in traditional Native American cultures vs. European-Christian society.
Martinez, a Navajo boy who told his mother that he felt as if he was both a boy and a girl, was considered nádleeh in his culture – a male-bodied person with a feminine essence. The film explains that traditional Navajos recognize four genders: masculine men, feminine women, nádleehi and dilbaa —female-bodied people who possess masculine traits.
Martinez, who sometimes dressed in feminine ways and had endured bullying and discrimination from some of his peers at Montezuma-Cortez High School, disappeared one night during the Ute Mountain Rodeo in 2001. Children discovered his badly beaten body five days later, on June 21, in a rocky area just south of Cortez.
The young man who killed Martinez, Shaun Murphy of Farmington, N.M., told friends he had “bug-smashed a hoto [slang for a homosexual].” Murphy pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is serving a 40-year prison sentence.
The film includes interviews with Martinez’s mother, Pauline Mitchell; a Cortez man, John Peters-Campbell, who befriended Mitchell; and gay/transgendered Native Americans and gay-rights advocates. Navajo composer Juantio Becenti of Cortez, who appears in the film, composed original music for the documentary.
Lois Vossen, series producer for “Independent Lens,” said Nibley sent her a copy of the film a couple of years ago. “It captured our interest immediately because it was such a different, incredible story of traditional and modern views, and how this different [Native American] tradition has been lost or almost lost in our modern world. We didn’t think our viewers probably knew about that.
“Claire [Aguilar], my co-curator, and I knew immediately we wanted it on ‘Independent Lens’.”
Vossen said she likes the way the movie interweaves historic and current perspectives. “At first you think it’s going to be just a modern story about a horrendous crime and civil rights and the story of this one young person, but the story behind it, of the tradition, is really striking. People should expect to find a very modern story with very deep roots and to be surprised by what they learn, that there is a longstanding history around this issue.”
Despite its grim focus, the documentary includes moments of hope and humor. “Although intense and gut-wrenching at times, it is very, very accessible,” Vossen said. “The content encompasses the worst of mankind and the best in terms of people helping and healing and encouraging people to be their true selves.”
In conjunction with the national broadcast, the film-makers are seeking funding for an effort to ensure that at least 6 million people see the film.
“We will be doing extensive outreach,” Vossen said. “Two Spirits” will be part of PBS’s Community Cinema series, which offers thought-provoking films at small venues around the country a month prior to their television broadcast. The Durango and Mancos public libraries are hosting Community Cinema showings.
Nibley, who along with co-writer and producer Russell Martin worked for five years on the documentary, said she is hoping to use social media to gain it a wider audience.
“We’re encouraging people to sign up on the film’s website and on the Facebook page.
“We want to have house gatherings on the day the film is shown so people can watch it together and get involved in the discussion. And we want screenings with communities of faith,” she said.
PBS will continue to air the film at different times over a three-year period after June 14, she said.
“Two Spirits” is being used as a teaching tool in anthropology, Native studies, gender- studies and social-work courses at colleges and universities, Nibley said. It has won awards at festivals worldwide, including the Monette-Horwitz Distinguished Achievement Award for outstanding activism, research, and scholarship to combat homophobia; and “Best Documentary of 2010” at the Copenhagen Gay-Lesbian Film Festival in Denmark. It received a standing ovation from a sell-out crowd of 500 at its world premiere at the Starz Denver Film Festival.
DVDs of “Two Spirits” are available at Notah Dineh and the Cortez Cultural Center, both in Cortez, as well as through the web site www.twospirits.org. It is available at wholesale prices for non-profit organizations to use as an educational or fundraising tool.