My goodness, it’s the season when they release the Oscar-worhty films! I still recall the stirring nominated song Lady Gaga performed at the last Academy Awards, “Till It Happens To You,” the title song to the documentary, The Hunting Ground. The film explores sexual crime on college campuses. During her song, dozens of survivors of sexual abuse slowly sauntered out on stage singing and congregated around Gaga, while she played the piano.
For me, I think of that terrible incident that occurred at Stanford U. earlier this year when a student raped an unconscious girl. Then I watched a very emotional Ashleigh Banfield, a CNN journalist, read the anonymous letter from the victim to her perpetrator. Shattering. I was in tears.
The producers of The Hunting Ground don’t shy
away from red-hot button issues. Minerva Productions is a husband-and-wife team, Anne O’Shea and Brian Quattrini, founded by Anne in 1996, to provide opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera. Due to its success, the company has expanded to other fields. Some of their projects have included the films The Kids Are Alright (with Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo) and The Family Fang (Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman). On Broadway, they’ve produced Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and An American in Paris. These activists are concerned with issues such as transgender rights, dysfunctional family dynamics, LGBTQ rights, societal stereotypes, nuclear power, and of course HIV and AIDS.
Presently living in Tulsa, Oklahoma (Anne’s hometown; Brian’s from Goshen, NY), they’re active with AIDS Help in Key West, Elton John AIDS Foundation, and Tulsa Cares.
I met the couple several years ago, and when I found out that Anne’s favorite sitcom was I Love Lucy and Brian’s was Taxi, I knew we’d have an instant friendship! I meet up with them at Paramount Studios commissary for a late afternoon treat. We gather our dessert, carry it outside, and dine under the shady trees.
Ruby Comer: Well, it’s so nice to see you two. It’s been a while, kids….
Anne O’Shea: It certainly has, Ruby!
Ya both look great! I can’t believe you are grandparents! Marriage must agree with you.
Brian Quattrini: Yep, we’ve been together about eight years. [Anne is widowed and has two kids and two grandkids, who Brian calls his own.] Anne and I met working for a concierge outsourcing company.
Anne: He was my boss. I didn’t even notice him until one day, I did. Apparently he had been noticing me….
Brian: I asked her out for a date. She asked me to the Tonys. We fell in love.
Anne: Yeah, there was a kind of lust vibe going on but as he was newly divorced we developed a friendship before we became lovers.
Brian: [He takes a bite of truffle then adds a tender smile.] We quit our jobs and moved to Key West!
Anne: He’s still my best friend.
Awwwww. Say, you’ve worked on many notable projects, what celebrity was the most fun, the most authentic?
Brian: Alan Cumming. Hands down.
Anne: Alan Cumming. Love, love that man!
That’s nice to hear. And Brian, to me, you have always resembled, yep, you know what I’m gonna say…Bill Shatner! [He nods knowingly and beams that radiant smile.] Tell me, how many souls have you lost through the years to this confounded disease?
Brian: Way too many. [He shakes his head.] At least fifty to a hundred. They each have their own story.
Anne: I stopped counting at twenty-five ….
I certainly relate. Do you recall when you first heard about the epidemic?
Brian: I moved from a small town in upstate New York to New York City right after graduating high school to work on elegant restaurant boats in New York harbor as a deckhand. Believe it or not [he chuckles], where there are talented wait staff/showbiz people, you can bet most of them are gay—a good thing indeed. This was the mid-eighties. We were all having fun. Until one by one, my friends were getting sick. Being the naive boy from upstate, it took me awhile to learn about HIV and AIDS, and to see firsthand what it did to my friends.
Anne: [Nodding in agreement] I was living in New York City at the time. My roommate Beth and I had a good friend, Dale, who was always off to the St. Marks baths. This was around 1980.
[Interrupting] Oh My Gosh! Those baths were legendary. My brother Chip used to tell me about them….
Anne: One day Dale came over to our apartment looking almost scared. He said, “Something is happening to us. My friends keep disappearing and nobody knows why.” A month or two later Dale was dead. He was the first one we lost.
Oh you guys, you know I wholeheartedly empathize, as I have my own stories as well. What AIDS events are coming up for you?
Brian: Red Ribbon Gala in Tulsa is coming up in a couple of months….
Anne: It’s a benefit for their AIDS organization, Tulsa Cares.
Brian: Just a few weeks ago we attended Fantasy Fest [in Key West]. That is a must! Always top of the list. I am married to Queen 2010 you know! [Anne brightly grins.]
Anne: We usually attend the Elton John Oscar Viewing Party every year, too.
Brian: We try to do as many events as possible, Ruby.
Thanks for your efforts guys. I can always count on you. What motivates you to care?
Anne: I volunteer in the name of my dearest friend, Bob Mitchell. When I lost him he had already lost his partner as well as our other best friend from college, Michael Casebeer. When I lost Bob—who was like an uncle to my kids and who was always there for me even in really tough times—it undid me. I swore I wouldn’t stop doing everything I could to find a cure for what was, at the time, a death sentence.
Brian: I care because I am human. My parents taught me to help those in need. All the people that I have helped in some way motivate me, dedicating the time that I would have had with the friends I lost…and it makes me happy.
It’s true, Brian. Helping others, helps me! Whom do you consider a hero in the epidemic?
Brian: Every volunteer or person affiliated with raising awareness and assisting those suffering with HIV and AIDS.
Anne: That answer is two-pronged: I salute celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Bono, and Elton John, who have worked tirelessly and lent their fame as a conduit for education and fundraising. But the other heroes are those who work with AIDS-infected children in third world countries. They watch children die in their arms knowing they don’t even realize what’s happening to them or why.
So true, so sad, Anne.
Anne: I’d like to add that I have many friends currently living with AIDS and HIV. With new medications and new therapies they have been able to maintain their T-cell counts. [She sips her espresso.] But many are still living on the edge and sometimes it feels like the slightest thing could push them over. Many are dealing with depression and a sense of hopelessness. There are protocols in place, especially in Key West, to help them. Still, unfortunately, we’ve lost several friends to suicide.
What a pity. What a pity. [There’s a brief silence among us.] Kids, what’s your motto?
Anne: Don’t take no for an answer! [She states with gusto.]
Brian: Live and Love every day. Appreciate!
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at MsRubyComer@aol.com.