One of my all time favorite documentaries, and one I will still sit through in awe today, is 1995’s The Celluloid Closet. Inspired by the book of the same name by the late, great Vito Russo, it looks back at LGBTQ representation from the very early beginnings of film until the mid-90s. If only Vito could see where we’ve come today. Apple TV+’s documentary-series Visible: Out on Television is the closest I’ve seen care to give in-depth analysis of media since The Celluloid Closet. This time, LGBTQ television is getting the time and attention it deserves.
Directed by Ryan White, Out on Television is produced by a massive list of people including Wendy Abrams, Wanda Sykes and Wilson Cruz. It features an even more impressive lineup of interviewees and narrators including Laverne Cox, Billy Porter, Margaret Cho, Oprah, Dr. Ruth and many more. The series is in five parts, from the very negative portrayals of LGBTQ persons in early television (“The Dark Ages”) to the new and exciting roles for our community (“The New Guard”). It’s episode three however, “The Epidemic” that really stands out. It tells the story of how AIDS and HIV affected the television industry and how TV, from narrative to news, was used to put a face and a story to those with the virus.
The series doesn’t sugarcoat things either. Visible is transparent about where things have gone wrong, and the steps still needed in the television industry. If you are curious to look back at where we came from and where we’re headed in television media, then you’ll want to check out this series.