Friday, February 12, 2010

The Newcomer (Rhoades)

“The Newcomer” Profiles Former Key West Mayor
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

If you live in Key West, you need to see this film to understand the island’s recent history. This is a documentary about Richard Heyman, America’s first openly gay mayor.

Elected mayor of Key West in 1983, he was a candidate who challenged local Conch politicians. Although he’d been living in Key West for ten years he was still considered a newcomer.

“The Newcomer” – a film directed by Emmy Award-winner John Mikytuck – is being shown at the Tropic Cinema as a double feature with “Audience with the Queens.”

Using filmed interviews, newsreel footage, and old photographs, Mikytuck stitches together a crazy quilt of Heyman’s mayoral campaign and years in office.

This was a time when AIDS was beginning to affect gays living in Key West. The threat of the disease being used as a political pawn loomed over Heyman’s campaign. But he refused to take the bait.

“The issue here is not someone’s sexual preference,” he said. “The gay issue is a smokescreen and the media is playing into the hands of the corruptors of politics and government in Key West.”

Against all odds, he won the race.

Suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, Heyman appearing on TV’s Nightline described Key West as “a potpourri of people from all over. It’s a very tolerant place. It’s very laid back. It’s very casual. And the beauty of Key West itself is reflected by the beauty of the people who live there.”

Meanwhile, the AIDS epidemic raged on the island. Over one thousand gay men, almost 50 percent of the population living here at the time, died of AIDS. In 1994, Heyman himself succumbed of AIDS-related pneumonia. The film ends with a listing of our friends and neighbors who were lost to the disease.
[from Solares Hill]

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