Meet the Minneapolis Movie Bearsby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
More than 80 bears turned up at a Twin Cities movie theater the other night. These bears were not true ursines, but members of a human social group, the Minneapolis Movie Bears.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The Minneapolis movie bears filled a lot of the balcony at the Uptown Theater, although many opted for the main floor where it was a few degrees cooler. Most of them are large men with beards, although there are some women too.
"Yeah, this is the largest crowd we've had so far for the Movie Bears," says Eric Blad.
Blad is one of the original members of the Minneapolis Movie Bears.
"We have about 405 members, and normally we get between 30 and 35 people at the theater, and tonight's definitely huge," he says.
So who are the Movie Bears? The majority of members are large, gay men, usually with beards, bears as they have long been known in the gay community, who like to watch movies.
The crowd quiets a little when the theater manager climbs on stage.
"Just have a few brief announcements to make before we start the show tonight," he says. "First up, I would like to thank the Minneapolis Movie Bears for coming out in force." He is then drowned out by the applause from the group.
Eighty-five people turning up at a movie theater on a cold December Tuesday night would put a smile on any theater manager's face, especially if, as the bears do, they eat a lot of popcorn. They get a group rate as a result.
The Movie Bears go see all kinds films, but this one is important.
They were here to see "Milk." It's the story of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, who in the late 70s became the first openly gay individual elected to a major public office in the U.S. Then, just 11 months later, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were both gunned down by a disgruntled former city supervisor.
The lights go down and the movie starts.
The bears are very attentive. They cheer loudly at the mention of the St. Paul City Council passing a gay rights ordinance in the late 1970s. It drowns out the following sentence that voters then struck down the ordinance in a public referendum.
Some of the bears can be heard sniffling back tears at the story of a Minnesota teen being sent for hospital treatment after telling his parents he's gay, and later at the suicide of a lover.
When the film ends the Bears react warmly, and applaud loudly.
"OK, come on down, we are going to take a quick picture," someone calls.
After posing for a group portrait, several of the Minneapolis movie bears meet in a nearby coffee bar to talk about "Milk." Rob Berger says he found the film very moving.
"I really valued the movie because it put a context to my life," he says.
Berger was in San Francisco in the late 1970s, and struggling to come to terms with his own sexual orientation.
"The thing is, I had no idea this was going on in San Francisco probably 15 miles away," he says.
The group also talks about what it's like to be a bear. No one really has a good definition, but Andrew Berke has one take.
"You know some people will say it has to be a stocky, hairy man with a beard," he says. "And other people say it's a way of thinking, a way of being."
A man who just gives his name as Mike puts it this way.
"Most of the bears are just like anybody down the street, straight or gay," he says. "It's allowed more people to come out and feel more comfortable around others."
Some of the bears say it's just community. But a community also needs history, and Rick Perry, another of the original Minneapolis Movie Bears, says that's why going to see films like "Milk" is important.
"One of the biggest problems with history and the gay community going back to the 70s, is there is a whole generation of people missing. I mean there is a generation of my age that dies of AIDS, a lot of people," Perry says.
The bears hug and slap each other on the back before heading off into the night. Some are already anticipating next Tuesday when they'll be going to see Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in "Australia."
- Morning Edition, 12/04/2008, 6:55 a.m.