The idea driving this long-form video profile was to inspire, connect and uplift people with a story of true love and family caregiving. It is part of AARP’s Real People, Real Stories series, which celebrates ordinary individuals from diverse backgrounds whose actions have made an extraordinary impact on themselves and a wider community.
Our goals were to establish trust with the couple during production, capture an authentic interview and footage of them together, and accurately portray the challenges and beauty of their reconnection. We aimed to publish ahead of the 55th anniversary of Loving Day in June 2022, which marks the 1967 Supreme Court decision legalizing interracial marriage in the U.S.
This story highlighted key AARP social mission themes of caregiving and storytelling through authentic, multicultural voices. It features Jeanne Gustavson (68) and Stephen Watts who were college sweethearts in the 70s. However, Gustavson’s family didn’t approve of her dating a black man and they were forced to break up. Forty-two years later, Gustavson was inspired to reach out to Watts to apologize. She found him in a nursing home, where he had been for 18 years after suffering a series of health issues. After reconnecting, Gustavson and Watts moved in together and she became his full-time caregiver.
Building trust between the subjects was important to making this story possible. Many aspects of their story were sensitive, including discussing family dynamics that contributed to their initial separation. By building a connection, we provided the space for them to share their story on their own terms.
It was important to our team to make sure that Jeanne and Steven had agency in telling their own stories. Steven has trouble with communication due to his complex medical needs, and we wanted to make sure he could use his own words to communicate his feelings. This required time, flexibility, and trust between our subjects and production team. Additionally, we also were sensitive as this was an interracial couple to not portray this as a white savior narrative – to make sure both of our subjects were fully realized individuals.
Steven and Jeanne’s unique caregiving situation also provided its own challenges. Jeanne is a 24/7 caregiver, which means taking a several hour break to interview was not possible. We had to work filming around caregiving responsibilities and make sure to not be intrusive into the home environment.
Despite the challenges in the filmmaking, the video both shared the unique challenges of caregivers and the power of love. About 48 million individuals in the U.S. provide unpaid care to an adult family member or friend according to AARP research. Despite the complex health needs that caregiving presents for both Jeanne and Steven and the pain of years apart, we strived to show the joy of reunification and how two people can bring each other happiness and a sense of purpose.
This video exceeded our goals and expectations when it was published ahead of Loving Day in June 2022 on AARP’s Facebook page. It reached more than 1.6 million people and earned the most engagements of any AARP Facebook video last year, with more than 243,000 likes, comments, and shares. It also earned nearly 845,000 views, making it the most viewed Real People, Real Stories series video in 2022.
This video connected with our audiences, and comments poured in to underscore the video’s emotional impact:
“Tears came to my eyes with this story. Love sees no color and it's a beautiful thing. I’m so glad for them❤️that they have a second chance to love each other.”
“Omg I’m crying, the sweetest ending to this story ❤️❤️❤️”
“Beautiful love story you gave him a reason to thrive.”
“I'm in tears here 😢. I'm so happy they are together now 💓. I wish them them the very best.”
“What a wonderful love story!”
“A beautiful love story, it gives me hope.”
“How sad it is they missed out on the 42 years,how special is it that they now will accually marrie[d], what a love story❣️"
“Wonderful story of love and devotion. Thank you both for sharing.”
“Wow, what a beautiful love story! SO happy she made it right, reunited with him and they reconnected. It’s never too late for love. May the time they have left together make up for all the years they were not… 💕”