I was born in May of 1977, smack dab in the middle of Anita Bryant’s vitriolic (and successful) campaign to repeal a law in Miami that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. As I grew up, I heard bits and pieces of the infamous story of the Orange Juice Lady who became an anti- gay zealot. When I knew I was gay and learned my gay history, I was basically told that Anita Bryant was an evil, vile, hateful b*tch.
Then I became an adult. And a writer. A writer who likes complex, messy characters. I thought about Anita Bryant a lot. How could someone do what she did? Say the things she said? And why? How could this celebrity who had been in the public eye for so long, who had espoused Christianity and orange juice in equally benign ways, who was doing just fine, suddenly say things like “If gays are granted rights, next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.” They say it’s important to know your enemies. I couldn’t agree more.
So I began a journey. A long one. But it had one simple goal: to tell the truth. It was easy to learn that Anita single-handedly started the strategic alliance between politics and Evangelical Christianity... and inadvertently ignited the gay rights movement. It took a lot longer to learn the deep truth. Who Anita really was. Who the people around her were. What they really wanted. And the truth started to reveal itself... this was a dark, twisted thriller.
But I still wasn’t getting any cooperation from the first person on my interview list: Anita Bryant herself. She was 74 and living in Oklahoma and vehemently did not want to speak to me. She had never spoken to anyone in all the years since 1977 and a gay Hollywood writer was not about to be her first “yes.” She declined my requests for six months... until she finally agreed to meet me at the urging of her friend Kathie Lee Gifford (that’s another story)... and God. Anita and I spent three “you-can’t- make-this-up” days together. I had no intention of incorporating my present-day experience with Anita into this movie. But after I got home and listened to the recordings of our interviews... it was all just too relevant, too remarkable, too incredible. Anita and a gay man, face-to-face, in present day... the story didn’t end in 1977. She and I were still telling this story.
Anita repeatedly told me that she knew I would make her “look bad.” I told her I didn’t think I needed to add anything to make her look bad because she made herself look bad enough. She laughed. I repeated my goal: to tell the truth. And here’s the thing: I found it. And it’s why the story is from her point of view. Because in order to know the truth, we need to know her truth... which is as messy and conflicted and thrilling as you can imagine.
On the outside ANITA will have the bright bold look of Miami 1977: palm trees, orange juice, the ocean. On the inside: we go behind the closed doors of Anita and Bob’s mansion Villa Verde with a neo-noir Hitchcockian approach. Because the truth is scary.
42 years later, in 2019, the Supreme Court is preparing to hear a landmark case on whether civil rights applies to sexual orientation.
42 years ago, Anita Bryant started it.
Know your enemies. Know Anita