Although we see more uniqueness in the world nowadays, it still isn’t easy for everyone to be who they are without judgment. Now, imagine how it was 30+ years ago when there wasn’t a community for just about anything you can think of. During that time, two men, David Faulk and Michael Johnstone, in search of a safe place to express themselves and enjoy life, created a community that would become bigger than the two could ever imagine. Writer-director Robert James documents these two people in The Unabridged Mrs. Vera’s Daybook.
David Faulk and Michael Johnstone were two gay men from opposing upbringings who would find themselves dealing with the same struggles. During a time when AIDS ran rampant primarily in the gay community, Faulk and Johnstone began to see their friends and community falling victim to the terrible virus. Even the two men themselves would contract HIV. Both became AIDS activists finding comfort in each other while Johnstone’s health decreased. With the thought that their lives may be shorter than they had hoped, the two began to bring their two art forms, photography and painting, together as a way to enjoy life.
In this art, Faulk and Johnstone created Mrs. Vera’s Daybook. The Daybook was a series of photos of uniquely colorful and elaborate outfits worn by Faulk’s alter ego, Mrs. Vera. The book eventually grew as their lives grew together for many years as they survived the HIV pandemic that took the lives of many of their friends. The number of photos caught the attention of many like-minded individuals, and a community was created where many could express themselves regardless of their sexuality.
“…a community was created where many could express themselves regardless of their sexuality.”
The Unabridged Mrs. Vera’s Daybook is unique in many ways. Not only does the documentary highlight two men in the LGBTQ+ community to tell their personal lives and struggles, but it also tells the stories of many in the community. Several men share their experiences during the height of AIDS, which come together to create a bigger picture, much like the art of David Faulk and Michael Johnstone.
Another way the movie stands out is in word choice. Some words used are known to be offensive by many in the LGBTQIA+ community. However, these terms are used by those within the community in a way that is almost freeing and empowering. Let’s face it, people will be offended by anything and everything these days, and it is refreshing to see free speech in use. James made the right choice to include these words, and it makes his film more powerful.
Realistically, many people probably will not give The Unabridged Mrs. Vera’s Daybook any attention because of the subject matter. But if we allow ourselves to hear others out, listen to their story and the struggles they have to deal with, maybe we can all learn something. And that is exactly what James’ documentary is truly about. It is about learning how to express your uniqueness and realizing that many others are out there looking to do the same freely and without judgment.