Much of the new documentary “The Day It Snowed in Miami” centers on the battlefield of a gay-rights crusade in Miami in 1977, when gay activists clashed with an unlikely opponent: Miss Oklahoma Anita Bryant. The fresh-faced conservative singer and pitchwoman for Florida orange juice led a campaign against a Miami-Dade ordinance, recently passed, that blocked discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But her activism sparked a debate that thrust South Florida’s gay population into the national spotlight.
“In Miami, gays were saying, ‘What is this? We’re being challenged by the orange-juice lady?'” says Joe Cardona, the documentary’s director. “She tapped into some of the boogeyman stereotypes about the gay community.”
Cardona’s 90-minute film, co-produced by PBS local affiliate WPBT-Ch. 2 with help from the Miami Herald and the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, will be screened Thursday night at the Classic Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale.
The filmmaker says the project began as a standalone profile of Bryant, described in the documentary as “a former beauty queen [and] a symbol of Florida goodness as the face of its multimillion-dollar orange-juice industry.” Cardona went more ambitious, and turned the documentary into a larger chronicle of gay rights, the 1980s AIDS epidemic and Miami-Dade County’s acknowledgment of gay rights in an ordinance passed in 1998.
“It’s embarrassing that we were still talking about gay rights in 1998,” says Cardona, also an editorial contributor for the Miami Herald. “But it was a jumping-off point for Miami. If we hadn’t shown ourselves to be a tolerant, open place, we probably would not be welcoming these big international events like Art Basel.”
The documentary draws on archival video footage and photos from Bryant’s anti-gay rallies, along with insight from former Miami-Dade county commissioner Ruth Shack, who helped pass the original ordinance on Jan. 18, 1977, repealed months later thanks to Bryant. (The film’s title refers to the next morning, Jan. 19, when snowflakes blanketed Miami for the first and only time.) The documentary also features interviews with political activist Bob Kunst, Rainbow Flag inventor Gilbert Baker and William Green, Bryant’s son.
“In a weird way, there needed to be an Anita Bryant,” Cardona says. “America needed to go through this public discourse. She touched on the ignorance and evil side of intolerance about gays in America, and she’ll forever go down as the lightning rod. I just think it’s a hell of a story that has national implications.”
A panel following the screening will include Miami Herald staff writer Steve Rothaus, Florida Atlantic University LGBT scholar Fred Fejes and Cardona. Separately, the Stonewall Museum on June 21 plans to unveil a photo- and documentary-based exhibition about Bryant at its recently opened gallery in Wilton Manors.
“The Day It Snowed in Miami” will screen 7 p.m. Thursday at the Classic Gateway Theatre, 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $25, $75 includes 5:30 p.m. VIP reception at Chill Wine Lounge. The film can also be viewed on 8 p.m. June 12 on WPBT-Ch.2. Call 954-763-8565 or go to StonewallNationalMuseum.org – this article is credited to the SunSentinal