As we mark LGBT+ History Month here in the United Kingdom. Apple TV’s new documentary series Visible: Out on television explores LGBTQ+ representation on the small screen. And while the five part documentary series focusses on US TV history. Watching you can’t but find important links back to the British media experience. As we are taken from the dark days of homosexuality being portrayed as a disease. Through to the first small, but often flawed steps in representation. Steps that often found themselves reversed by the devastation of HIV/AIDS. But despite the loss and horror of AIDS, the fight continued. Leading us up to the modern TV shows, that have helped more and more LGBTQ+ people find a positive reflection on TV.
However, the power of Apple TV’s documentary lays in its ability to reflect the diversity of LGBTQ+ communities in media history. With Visible: Out on television reflecting transgender representation, and the black and Asian American experience. Alongside the Caucasian gay, bi and lesbian experience that is often a feature of documentary filmmaking. In turn ensuring Apple TV’s documentary not only provides a defining exploration of US TV history. But also a reflection of American social history in the fight for equality.
The journey starts in the 1960’s with the Army – McCarthy hearings, where homosexuality came under the same scrutiny as communism. Encouraging institutionalised homophobia and transphobia in both society and the wider media. While also exploring the hidden LGBTQ+ figures on television, who pushed boundaries and delicately challenged public perceptions. Whether through small acts of representation or brave interviews that were too often twisted to fit the model of homosexuality as a disease. However, it is not until the early 1970s that reflections truly begin to permeate prime time TV. With All in the Family and the groundbreaking PBS show An American Family pushing the boundaries of public opinion. In a society where LGBTQ+ lives were still taboo and hidden from sight.
Visible: Out on television then takes us from Harvey Milk through to the TV chat show and the campaigning work of ‘Act Up’. While also reflecting the darkness of the HIV/AIDS years and the subsequent rise in religiously motivated hatred through media. And as we steer into the 80’s and 90’s with One life to Live, The Golden Girls and Will and Grace. Visible offers a nuanced exploration of their impact and place in leading us to groundbreaking modern dramas such as Ryan Murphy’s Pose.
Featuring a wealth of interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities and straight allies. Ranging from Ellen DeGeneres to Armistead Maupin, Caitlyn Jenner, Ryan Phillippe and Oprah Winfrey. Many interviews and stories hold deep emotional resonance for those of us who grew up with an overtly negative media expereince. From the bravery of actor Wilson Cruz, who came out prior to his role in the the groundbreaking My So Called Life. To the gender reassignment surgery and 50s media coverage of Christine Jorgensen. And the journey of the young star of An American Family Lance Loud. These are stories and interviews that carry a deep emotional place in the journey towards equality on screen. While equally reminding us all of the importance of being positively seen and heard. Something even the most ardent campaigner for LGBTQ+ equality often now takes for granted.
Visible is a documentary made with the upmost love and respect for all those who have fought to ensure representation. Never dismissing just how hard the battle has been, or the challenges of a journey still in progress. Ultimately making it essential viewing for young and old alike. In exploring the fight against institutionalised homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia. While also reflecting on the need of us all to continue the struggle for wider equality. Whether that be in our schools, our communities, wider society or TV and film.
Visible: Out on Television is available now on Apple TV+
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