Esther Newton Made Me Gay

Esther Newton Made Me Gay – ITALIAN PREMIERE

After the screening Q&A with the director Jean Carlomusto, the producer Shanti Avirgan and the protagonist Esther Newton.

Directed by Jean Carlomusto – USA, 2022


The film explores the life and times of cultural anthropologist Esther Newton. Throughout her career, Esther was a pioneer – questioning and challenging status quo assumptions on gender, sexuality and anthropological methods. Her work inspired generations of scholars to pursue research in what would eventually become the field of LGBTQ & Gender Studies.

Keenly attuned to the cultural and societal forces that shaped her life, Esther guides us through an anthropology of herself, a study influenced by her love for a sport – competitive dog agility – that pairs her aging butch body with her beloved dog teammate on an obstacle course that is constantly changing.

In her persistent efforts to train her body back into shape after numerous health setbacks, we see the intense drive that has helped Esther navigate a lifetime of obstacles she faced in her quest to become who she wanted to be; a butch lesbian, scholar and athlete.Agility, persistence and passionate inquiry have driven Esther’s survival as a butch lesbian, octogenarian athlete, and groundbreaking scholar whose life’s work has influenced generations of LGBTQ activists and scholars.


Jean Carlomusto is a filmmaker, activist, and interactive media artist whose work explores the complex nature of unique individuals and marginalized populations. Her work has been exhibited internationally in festivals, museums, and on television. Her Emmy nominated documentary, Larry Kramer In Love & Anger, HBO, 2015, was featured at the Sundance Film Festival. She produced and directed Sex In An Epidemic, Showtime, 2011, a powerful retelling of the birth of the safer sex movements, and how HIV prevention movements continue today.

Jean was an early pioneer in the AIDS Activist video movement. In 1987, she started the Media Unit at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. She was a founding member of DIVA TV (a video affinity group of ACT UP) and a member of the Testing The Limits Video Collective. The numerous works that she collaborated on throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, included: Doctors, Liars and Women: AIDS Activists Say No To Cosmo,Target City Hall, Seize Control of the FDA, Testing the Limits:NYC, and Women and AIDS.

Her personal films are often unorthodox investigative reports on subjects that have been all but erased from history. In To Catch A Glimpse, (Museum of Modern Art, NYC, permanent collections), she delved into her family history by trying to find out if the rumors about her grandmother’s death – from an illicit abortion back in 1939 –were true. In L Is For The Way You Look, which aired on PBS/WNET, she pieced together lesbian history using whatever scraps of gossip and memory she could find into a humorous portrait of a population’s creative tussle for visibility and inclusion. Her celebrated work, Shatzi Is Dying, is a multilayered treatise exploring queer culture, AIDS politics, life and death, traced through the near-death experiences of a beloved rescue dog.

Her interactive video altar, Offerings, commemorating AIDS activists, has been featured at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles and toured South Africa as part of the Stop AIDS/Make Art project. In 2016, it was part of EVERYDAY at LaMama Galleria, NYC.

She is a Professor in Communications and Film and Director of the Television Center at LIU Post.



Shanti Avirgan is a filmmaker, producer and archival researcher. She has worked on documentary films and series for HBO, National Geographic Channel, Showtime and Netflix. Films she has produced have premiered at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. This is Shanti’s third feature documentary with Jean Carlomusto directing.