›› Roosevelt's Operative
a short film by Michael Van Devere.
2014 | 9 mins | US.
starring: Nathaniel Grant as the Navy Recruiter.
Official Synopsis: "A young Navy recruiter recalls the enlistment of sailors during the Navy Sex Scandal in Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1919."
At times it seems a case of history repeating and in particular when it comes to the all too many shameful instances of homosexual men being persecuted by the authorities, as this informative short film from writer and director Michael Van Devere of Perkins 28 fame is indicative of, given it details the notorious Navy Sex Scandal of 1919.
For this was a time when prior to becoming the 32nd President of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, approved a covert investigation in which a select group of naval operatives were "obliged" to allow "immoral acts" to be "performed upon them" for the purpose of obtaining evidence of men soliciting sailors in and around the Newport Naval Station, after the First World War. Yet it's methods and in particular the use of enlisted personnel as sexual participants would result in an investigation that saw Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy and Roosevelt himself being rebuked by a Congressional committee. In short, this was the trial that could have cost Roosevelt his political career.
Enlisting the enlisted to clean up America, in Roosevelt's Operative.
Yet such is oddly, or perhaps not so, neglected in Ken Burns' recent PBS series The Roosevelts. Not so here, as Van Devere and to his credit, has gone out of his way to focus his historical eye on this often overlooked chapter of American military history. The result is a telling, if somewhat sexually coy one-man play, as we find Nathaniel Grant take to the narrative stage, walking the lonely corridors of a ship as a recruiter ordered to "clean up America," yet equally troubled by the fact that to do so, he will almost certainly have to engage in the "acts of depravity" that others would come to face prosecution over.
And therein lies the problem with this short film. For and as insightful as this work is, frankly it's just too short - a short. Indeed with reports of sailors engaging in effeminate behaviour, cross-dressing and all kinds of "deviant sexual activity" - mmm, you cannot help but feel that Van Devere has only tapped the salacious surface here. And no wonder given the subject under discussion, one that resulted in a military tribunal ending with the court-martial of seventeen sailors charged with sodomy, most of whom would come to serve time at the Portsmouth Shipyard naval prison in Maine; their careers cut short and their very lives now in shame. Yet the true shame was on those who authorized young men who having enlisted in the Navy to fight for their country, found themselves instead pawns in an infiltration ring with the sole purpose of acquiring information on those engaging in "acts of gross indecency," by participating in the very acts themselves. A sure case of sexual hypocrisy and of history repeating.
Gay Visibility - covert.
Nudity - none.
Overall - file under ... 3 stars.