David Wojnarowicz completed the piece above called Untitled (One day this kid . . .) about a year before he died of AIDS in 1992. It features a silkscreen of a childhood photograph of Wojnarowicz — his face radiating innocence, with eyes that have seen more than they should have. The text surrounding the image presents a worst-case scenario of how America deals with difference. Too much of that intolerable treatment was part of the artist’s personal experience as an outspoken gay man with AIDS.
"One day this kid will get larger...One day this kid will talk. When he begins to talk, men who develop a fear of this kid will attempt to silence him with strangling, fists, prison, suffocation, rape, intimidation...All of this will begin to happen in one or two years when he discovers he desires to place his naked body on the naked body of another boy."
This image/text piece is the first work of Wojnarowicz’’s that I remember seeing as a young man, not yet out of the closet and scared to death of being exposed as gay to my conservative, Christian family in Texas. When I saw this piece, I felt empowered, less alone, and less afraid. Wojnarowicz, in his searing indictment, spoke with righteous indignation and wielded moral authority.
Many things have changed radically in the 24 years since his death. AIDS became the subject of a global public conversation instead of a taboo topic. The LGBTQ community is still discriminated against in horrible ways across the globe, with new laws of persecution being passed recently in Africa. Millions still suffer and die of HIV/AIDS, but the tide has shifted. I can get married now if I want to and expect the same rights afforded to heterosexual couples; even my conservative home state of Texas found the ban of gay marriage to be unconstitutional. The disease that killed David Wojnarowicz is no longer the death sentence that it was to so many. New York City (where I’ve spent the last 17 years of my life, and where David spent most of his) has changed in ways that are both favorable and disadvantageous for the artist. It is no longer the gritty, affordable magnet of creativity and culture it once was; it is safer but much more expensive.
Although many aspects of queer life have radically changed over the last three decades, this year we are reminded of how many things remain the same. On the day of the shootings at the Orlando gay bar Pulse, I could not help think of what David and his work stood for. As a young gay man, queer bars were a beacon of light, a celebration of eccentricity, where we ‘freaks’ of the world could find one another, feel included, and witness in our shared experience. The shooter in Orlando violated this sacred space for queer people and forced the world to consider its own internalized homophobia. It reminded me just how radical a statement it still is to be out and queer in this country and in the world.
The shooting in Orlando, along with the presidential election in 2016, was the impetus for Fire in the Belly. The election of Donald Trump as President signaled to the world that right-wing ideology is alive and well, and that the struggle to preserve civil rights is as important as ever. This struggle is central to the work of David Wojnarowicz and to the relevance of his story at this time.
This is the story not only of Wojnarowicz’s life, but also of his battle with right-wing extremists during a time of political upheaval and conservative ideology. The narrative is a forceful portrayal of the artist’s effort to defy the repressive political forces against him, and to come to terms with his own moral authority and the legacy of his life and work.
There is an obvious gay audience for this film, but also an international audience that has an interest in art, and in particular, the art scene of New York City in the 80’s. This film would appeal to the art house crowd that follows the trends of the contemporary art world. Wojnarowicz’s work belongs to many major museum collections around the world and will be the subject of a retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York in the summer of 2018. The roles of Wojnarowicz and his mentor Peter Hujar and close French female friend Marion Scemama are ripe for intense performances by the right actors, which I believe will also widen the potential audience for this film. The film will appeal to audiences obsessed with the 80s who will be eager to see this epic, searing story told authentically and passionately. I’m convinced that this film could also tap into the zeitgeist of politically minded films about people of color, such as Selma and 12 Years a Slave, that speak to an important moment in American history and depict how political events of the past shape our current lives.
Fire in the Belly is an ambitious project with period elements, likely to be in the 2-3 million dollar range. It brings the opportunity to present an outspoken, politically astute role model fighting a conservative establishment, just when contemporary politics has brought us an unexpected return to right-wing demagoguery. I believe this film can express the moral impact that David had on the world and impress on audiences today the urgency of his righteous vision.