BY DANIEL KUSNER
Erin Davies’ VW Bug was sprayed with hate.
Instead of cleaning off the Krylon slurs, the brave New Yorker road-tripped her little 'Fagbug’ across North America and shot a whip-smart lo-fi documentary
In April of 2007, Erin Davies was breaking in her first new car — a cute Volkswagen Beetle.
The twentysomething grad student was living an idyllic life with her girlfriend at Sage College in Albany, NY.
The rear window of her love bug sported a modest pride sticker, which caught the attention of an idiot with a can of aerosol paint, who graffitied her vehicle with the words “fag u r gay.” Because of that specific language, this senseless vandalism was classified as an anti-gay hate crime.
While Davies’ insurance adjuster was assessing the damage, the incident sparked news stories and considerable attention. And because restoring the exterior was less than Davies‘ deductible, she left the car as is — the word “fag” emblazoned on the driver’s side window.
In less than a week, Davies “fagbug” took on a life of its own. Back in 2007, MySpace was still relevant, and “fagbug” became a viral sensation.
Davies understood that her little car was causing a big fuss — people got mad; people became suspicious; people were leaving notes on Daves’ car.
For her summer break, Davies dreamt up a project: She’d make a documentary while driving the “fagbug” across North America and record the various reactions. Her road trip lasted for 58 days, and Davies mapped her route by visiting hate-crime sites.
Released in 2010, “Fagbug” is a charming and evocative little documentary that’s now available on Hulu, Netfilx and iTunes. (Y’all can even watch the whole dang thing on YouTube.)
The film emerges into a enlightening and sometimes hateful postcard of America.
Evoke magazine recently caught up with Davies about her mission of turning a gnarly slur into an inspiring dialogue about overcoming hate with hands-on activism.
If you had to guess, why would a pride sticker incite someone spray paint “fag u r gay” on a parked car? For 20 years, I’ve known I’m gay. I don’t know why someone felt the need to inform me of it. However, by writing “fag” on my car, they clearly made assumptions that were wrong.
You meet a Texan who says gays are damned. Did you visit the Lone Star State? I’d planned on visitng Texas while filming the documentary. But during my first stops — South Carolina and Florida — I found out about two recent hate-crime murders. So I dedicated eight days investigating those and had to sacrifice Texas.
However, at a gas station in Wisconsin, I met a young man from Texas, who said gays will be persecuted and go to hell.
After the movie, I drove the “fagbug” through Texas — where I was met with lots of strange looks — and had lunch in Dallas. I’ve since been spoken at colleges in San Antonio and Corpus Christi.
Was “Fagbug” a big-budget filmmaking extravaganza? I singlehandedly raised $100,000. Film production cost $60,000, and $40,000 went toward travel expenses.
I wanted a film crew, but it didn't come together. So I just went with what I had — or didn't have.
I had no camera. So I borrowed a professor’s mini-DV Cannon camera, which was probably worth $300. I had no special microphone — nothing. I didn't have a laptop. A generous soul stationed in Iraq sent me a brand new Mac notebook so I could communicate with people helping organize the road trip.
Plus, I had sponsors: HD Radio gave me $5,000 so I could submit “Fagbug” to 100 film festivals. That money also paid for my GPS, an iPod and a stereo system.
Then my GPS was stolen. Ao a company called CDW.com sponsored the replacement. VW of America sponsored about $15,000 to cover editing costs, the vinyl-wrap rainbow paint job and some travel expenses.
Editing cost me about $11,000. News footage cost a few thousand. I spend about $5,000 a year for car repairs.
The fagbug will soon be traveling to the last two states. Shipping the car to Hawaii and driving to Alaska will cost about $10,000.
Tegan and Sara’s “I Know I Know I Know” plays in the movie. Did the lesbian songstresses support your indie endeavor and loan you song permissions for free? Anyone who appears in the film had to sign a release. All the music had to be cleared. I received approval from both Tegan and Sara, their management and Warner Bros. Records. However, to include the song, I pay $1,000 every five years.
How successful has your first documentary performed? “Fagbug” has changed lives while providing hope. That’s what I’m most proud of. I submitted it to 110 film festivals, and 40 accepted it. At Vancouver Pride I received an award for Most Outstanding Individual. It opened the Atlanta GLBT Film Festival. At the Barebones Film Festival, it received the “Best Erase Hate/Promote Tolerance Award.”
I’ve presented the film at over 150 middle, high schools, universities and major businesses like BlueCross BlueShield, CNN and VW of America. .
As a lesbian, is the word “fag” as offensive as “dyke,” which some lesbians, like Dykes on Bikes, have appropriated as an empowering term? I equally dislike the word “fag” and “dyke.” Both sound ugly. However, I understand people feel differently. And I understand why it’s important to define the power that words have or don't have.
Are you now fully fledged lesbian gearhead greasemonkey? Absolutely. Before, I was responsible for the untimely death of my cars — either for not changing the oil or caring about details of a car.
Because I travel with the Fagbug so much, I’ve become very “in tune” with car care. I have a great mechanic. And the moment there’s a weird noise or issue, I get it fixed.
Other than the engine, I've replaced almost car part at least once. Fagbug now has about 250,000 miles. I plan on it making seeing it make it to one million!
GLAAD APPROVES ‘FAGBUG’
I recently asked the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to to provide a comment about “Fagbug.”
Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s vice president of communications, issued the following statement:
“GLAAD has not spoken out against the film. Erin has done great work to educate Americans about the harms of anti-gay attitudes and slurs. The film has an important message that more people should hear.”