“Jim in Bold: 8,000 Miles Through One Boy’s Soul”
Helping American Youth
I came across the film “Jim in Bold” quite by accident. The other night while reading about movies on IMDB I found a reference to the film so I went to the website of Equality Forum which produced the film. I immediately sent off an email and got a prompt answer from Malcolm Lazin of the executive office. We exchanged a few emails and then I spoke on the phone with him and came to find out that we both lived in Israel at the same time but did not know each other which is interesting because most of the Americans in the country have heard of the others—especially the gay guys. Malcolm sent me the film and I cannot thank him enough. I have always known about the problems facing gay youth but to see a film done on the subject and done so beautifully really made me wake up. This amazing film will touch your heart and your mind.
The framework of the film is the life of Jim Wheeler, a young gay poet and artist from Lebanon, Pennsylvania who was the target of the most extreme homophobia as he was maturing. In 1997, Jim was alone in his room and he committed suicide. Some five years later, three young men, Benjie Nycum, Mike Glatze and Scott MacPhee established Young Gay America decided to take a video camera and set off on a cross country trip to interview gay and lesbian teens in America’s heartland and to record the struggles that they face as well as the strength and progress they demonstrate every day of their lives simply by being themselves.
I think we forget what a big country this is and how many gay youth live in small towns and rural areas. I, myself, have trouble imagining that I having always lived in a city except for the years that I spent living in farming communities in Israel. But then I was completely out there and well accepted. In the cities I always had others to turn to when I felt down.
“Jim in Bold” looks at all of the issues and problems that our gay and lesbian teens face. But it is Jim Wheeler who is the star of this film even though he is not alive. It shows us the deep and lasting effect that the homophobia that is not only tolerated but accepted in this country does to our youth. As we watch the stories of these young people we see the tragedy that hatred has brought to these kids as well as those that exhibit resilience in the face of these horrible experiences.
Jim Wheeler’s story is the backdrop that shows the two different experiences that our youth have. We look at the journey of emotions that led to Wheeler’s death and we see all of the warning signs that were there—his writings and his artwork, his cries for help and the threats to his family. Additionally the film looks at the high school system ad Jim Wheeler’s school which not only tolerated but accepted the homophobia that caused him to take his life and that was dished out on a daily basis to him. How is this possible in the greatest country in the world? The very idea that taunts can lead a kid to suicide is abhorrent to me but worse than that is the idea that this kind of behavior is allowed to happen in a place where our children are supposed to be safe.
I am still feeling the impact that the film had on me and I feel myself to be sincerely introspective at this moment. I am shocked and somewhat appalled and this is strange as I have known about the problems facing our kids. I suppose seeing them on the screen and hearing Jim Wheeler’s poetry has made it all that more real.
The film is not depressing however—quite the opposite, it is uplifting. We see the hopeful aspects of being young and gay in America and the three Young Gay Americans have every reason to be very proud of themselves for what they have done. They managed to get to Lebanon to Jim’s home town and interviewed the youth there. They also have a Young Gay America web site that is accessible to all who wish to use it and they can do so anonymously.
I must personally thank Malcolm again for making this film available to me and to the people of Arkansas. We are a state of small towns and rural settlements and I will personally take this film to anyone who wants to see it. As part of the Equality Forum, he has done work that makes us proud and I am sure that Cinema Pride has found through him a new direction and a new ally. I also feel I have made a friend in Jim Wheeler even though he is not around to realize it. It is a shame and a pity that he had to pay the price that he did but the beautiful legacy in his art and poems is something that we can all be proud of.