Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine Movie Poster Image
Moving documentary brings hate-crime victim to life.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 89 minutes

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Positive Messages

Out of the ugliness behind Shepard's murder came more awareness of the terrible cost of intolerance -- and how common it still is. The film focuses more on friendship, love, and forgiveness than anger and hatred. Courage and empathy are major themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Shepard's parents are the epitome of grace, showing forgiveness and compassion for the two men who savagely killed their son.


Shepard's murder is described in detail, and some graphic photos are featured in the film, including images of his battered body and the bloody handgun that was used to beat him to death. One portion of the film describes a brutal rape and its aftermath.


Several scenes include moments when protesters use the slurs "fags" and "faggots." They also carry signs with hateful phrases and images. One person reads some hate mail out loud, which includes words like "a--hole." One person talks about being "pissed off" by the terrible tragedy.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some scenes show brief images from a bar and people holding drinks (beer, etc.).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine explores the life and tragic death of a young gay man, including the aftermath of his terrible hate-crime murder. Despite the tragic subject, the film explores friendship, love, and forgiveness, rather than focusing on the anger and intolerance that triggered Shepard's death. The film includes some hurtful images and homophobic slurs, as well as some graphic images of Shepard's battered body; a brutal rape is also discussed. But grappling with the difficult subject matter is worth it; this is an important film with a message that's valuable for older teens.

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What's the story?

In October 1998, gay college student Matt Shepard was found tied to a fence in Wyoming, beaten, bloody, and battered. He didn't survive the terrible assault, and his death became national news, shining a stark spotlight on the homophobia that spurred such a horrible crime. MATT SHEPARD IS A FRIEND OF MINE reveals Shepard's life before the attack and discusses the impact of his murder through a series of in-depth interview with his friends and parents. The documentary brings Shepard to life and examines the aftermath of the crime, including how it helped make hate crimes a more common part of the cultural discussion.

Is it any good?

Prepare to have your heart broken by this incredibly moving documentary, which adds texture to the Matt Shepard we've come to know from the headlines. With every minute, Shepard's many layers fall away like a proverbial onion, and our eyes can't help but well up with emotion. Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine is a deft movie, sensitive to its participants -- Shepard's parents speak candidly of their sorrow -- and anchored by the devotion of his friends (one of whom narrates the documentary). In every scene, we feel their deep sense of loss. But there's inspiration here, too: Shepard's parents are a testament to the power of love, inspiring viewers to access their own generosity and humanity.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Matt Shepard's life and death. How did he affect the people around him, and how did they respond to his death?

  • How did Shepard's parents handle losing their son? Why are they so forgiving? Do you think other people would react the same way?

  • Talk to your kids about hate crimes and violence. How can tragedies like Shepard's death become touchstones that change opinions and open minds?

  • How does Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine promote compassion, courage, and empathy? Why are these important character strengths?

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