CNN’s Soledad O’Brien follows her successful Black in America and Latino in America series’ by telling the story of Gary and Tony, who after 20 years together and a legal marriage in Canada, have decided to grow their family. The special will air on CNN this June.
Adam: What did you learn from Gary & Tony’s story?
Soledad: You know, for me, it is a really interesting way to examine couples. As a person who has knocked out quite a few babies herself, I wanted to examine what is the definition of family. So over this hour, you learn a lot about Gary and Tony, a lot about their relationship and really a lot about what their dreams and desires are. Really it’s a story about two people who want to have a baby.
Adam: The trailer starts out by identifying the topic as one of the most controversial issues of our time. Why do you think the idea of two men raising a baby is controversial?
Soledad: Well I’ll start out by saying I don’t. I don’t write the promos, but I think what they were referring to is the fact that in the past year and in the next several years, the idea of gay marriage has been very controversial. And controversial meaning that there are ardent opinions on either side of the issue where people firmly believe that they are right. So I think that this is an issue that people feel very strongly about, but again that is promo copy, that is not my documentary.
Adam: Mike Huckabee recently condemned gay parents by saying “children are not puppies.” Do you think there is anything in the special that will help build understanding among vocal opponents of gay parents, or do you think it will provide them with more ammunition?
Soledad: That’s never my goal. My goal, when I do documentaries is to drill down and tell the story of human beings. I guess anybody is welcome to take from it what they want to take from it. In a lot of ways, children are easier than puppies. Children grow, children respond to you, children you can shape and create and mold them and that is what is fabulous about being a mother from my perspective — I have four little kids — is that they are going to grow up and turn into adults and I get to shape the things that I want my kids to care about. Puppies — they just become big dogs. I think that it’s not for me to say what someone is going to get out of the work that I’ve done. It’s not a story about an issue, it’s a story about two people and this is their life and this is their story. It's not the story of the gay community, it is not even the story of gay marriage, it is the story of a guy named Gary and a guy named Tony and they have decided to have a baby. And all the effort, the drama, the emotion, the panic, the fear, the hard work, the medical bills, the legal efforts that go into making that happen for two guys.
Adam: How do you think they will do as parents?
Soledad: What’s funny is that they are the fun parents. I have seen them with small children and they are standing on their head and doing gymnastics, while I just want to sit in this chair for a minute. Gary and Tony, I think from watching them, are going to be great parents because being a great parent is about being a loving human being.
Adam: Gary & Tony appear to be two white men. Based on your experiences with Black in America and Latino in America, how do you think this special would have differed if it focused on gay men of color?
Soledad: I pick my stories by characters. Gary and Tony are willing to have cameras follow them around, they are good talkers, they aren’t shy, and they are interesting individuals. I don’t cast documentaries by saying I need a guy who is black, 6’2” and blah, blah, blah. I never really think of my stories from that perspective, but I often get asked questions from that perspective. I think that good story telling and whether a story resonates or not is a matter of whether or not it is a truthful story. Is it a story that is authentic, is it really about two individuals or is there some agenda? In the run up to the documentary we will do stories on couples who are not white, we will do stories about two women. So I never cast people in terms of color. If a story is well told, it can be about anybody.
Adam: There have been many rumors and many calls for a Gay in America special. Is there still hope for an in-depth CNN documentary about the LGBT community?
Soledad: I probably started that rumor, because we have really considered doing that. In a way I think of this documentary as one piece of that. One of the challenges I find in doing a Gay in America or a Women in America or a Black in America is that it is just impossible to tell stories of 51 million people, in Latino in America for example. It’s just impossible, so you end up telling a handful of stories and one of the criticisms which I actually agree with is “well, you didn’t get my story.” So what I decided to do is to tell stories about individuals. This is a great story — they aren’t every gay couple in America and they aren’t every gay person in America. They’re not meant to be. I guarantee that if I did a survey on gay in America, you would be the one calling me up saying “well, how come it didn’t have this and why did you pick that?” I think it is a valid question. My own mother after the first Black in America said “No Caribbeans? Where are my people?” She is right, but you can’t tell stories well that way. There is no conspiracy going on, this is the start of Gay in America. The marketing people may tell you something else, but to me this is the start of Gay in America.
Adam: Was there anything surprising to you about Gary and Tony’s story?
Soledad: All of the things that were surprising to me had nothing to do with the fact that Gary and Tony are gay. I have never used a surrogate for any of my four kids and I had no idea the cost. Ultimately when you are telling stories about human beings what I have found consistently is that we are quite similar. We all operate very similarly. We are all selfish and scared and generous and sharing and kind and happy and sad. What is not surprising to me is that they are like every other expectant dad I have ever met. The one thing that is a shocker is the cost and the legal maneuvering that has to be done for Gary and Tony to have a baby.