HBO has announced they are developing a biopic about legendary anti-gay activist Anita Bryant.
The film will be directed by “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr, and written by “Project Runway” creator Chad Hodge. Given that the film is at the creative control of two individuals whose work is loved by the gay community might wind up being a pie in the face to Ms. Bryant. It would not be the first, as one of the more spectacular of her career was when, in 1977, she was pied by a gay activist in Des Moines, Iowa.
Hodge has a connection to Bryant as they both attended Northwestern University. “She is a fascinating person on every single level… The twists and turns of her life,” he told The Hollywood Reporter, “are incredible.”
Ms. Bryant was born in 1940 to a religious family in Oklahoma, but that did not stop her parents from divorcing. At the age of 18, she had appeared on talent shows and was named Miss Oklahoma. She would eventually compete in the Miss America Pageant, and finish as a second runner-up.
By 1960, she was a multi-platinum pop star, having sold 3 million albums. “Paper Roses” was one of her biggest hits. She soon married Miami disc jockey Robert ("Bob") Green, with whom she would have four children.
In 1969, she was a spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission, singing in several of their commercials. Her wholesome nature caused her to become an early Christian celebrity.
Her notorious claim to fame within the gay community began in 1977, when she switched from recognizable celebrity to political activist. It was that year Dade County, now Miami-Dade County, tried to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The human rights ordinance dispute led to a national discussion of gay rights, and celebrity status for Bryant. As Miami was one of the first counties in the US to try to pass such legislation, the nation focused on its outcome. The gay activists’ victory was short-lived. An organization Bryant founded, Save Our Children, was instrumental in overturning the law within a year.
She antagonized thousands of gays across the country with her admonition that “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children. Therefore, they must recruit our own children.”
Her condemnation of the gay community, however, caused celebrity backlash against the Florida Citrus Commission. Stars such as Barbra Streisand, Mary Tyler Moore, and John Waters joined a boycott of the organization, which resulted in her dismissal from the post.
Meanwhile, gays boycotted the orange juice and vodka cocktail called the screwdriver. They replaced the orange juice with pineapple juice, and named the new drink in her honor. Sales of the ‘Anita Bryant’ went on to fund gay activists campaigning around the country.
Bryant then led several campaigns to overturn or block the passage of similar laws in cities including St. Paul, MN and Eugene, OR. In the movie Milk, archival footage is incorporated into the film showing Bryant at it again. She supported the Briggs Initiative, a failed, 1978 California campaign to ban LGBT teachers from their public schools.
The Hollywood Reporter said that the biopic’s creator, Chad Hodge, would like to speak to Bryant about the project. No word yet whether the former Orange Juice Queen will go for the squeeze.