‘Visible: Out on Television’ Explores TV’s Role in LGBTQ Rights
LGBTQ visibility on television may seem like the norm now, but it wasn’t always that way, as explored on the new documentary, “Visible: Out on Television.”
LGBTQ visibility on television may seem like the norm now, but it wasn’t always that way, as explored on the new Apple TV+ documentary, “Visible: Out on Television,” which explores breakthroughs and milestones for LGBTQ visibility in the last five decades of television.
Featuring a slew of recognizable narrators that are tied to the LGBTQ community and history—Janet Mock, Margaret Cho, Asia Kate Dillon, Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Waithe—Emmy-nominated director Ryan White (Ask Dr. Ruth) weaves together interviews with key figures and deftly curated clips. The series is also executive produced by comedian Wanda Sykes.
The five-part docuseries starts off by highlighting groundbreaking programs from the early 1970’s: the socially conscious sitcom, “All in the Family” and the PBS documentary “An American Family”. The latter program is considered the “first reality show” because it documented a normal family in Santa Barbara, who happened to have an adult son who was gay.
Stereotypes, challenges and misguided representations of LGBTQ characters are also explored, addressing the inevitable hurdles towards progress. For example, after Ellen Degeneres famously came out in 1997 on her eponymous sitcom, backlash materialized in the form of her show being cancelled shortly afterwards. However, the significance of her show is widely credited for paving the way for shows like “Will and Grace” and “Modern Family”, in the years that followed.
Different genres are explored, such as reality TV, which provided a new outlet for LGBTQ visibility because of its focus on real people and not just fictional characters. Contestants on shows like “Survivor” and “American Idol” helped bring LGBTQ people into the public eye.
Overall, the docuseries champions the unique power of television to educate as well as entertain viewers, in this case: with the belief in diversity and inclusion. It features never-before-seen interviews with Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Billy Porter, Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, Sara Ramirez, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and dozens more.
In an age of openly LGBTQ TV hosts like Ellen Degeneres, Anderson Cooper, Andy Cohen, and Rachel Maddow—along with an ever expanding list of LGBTQ characters on TV that range from the disabled to superheroes—it’s easy to forget that the road to visibility was fairly recent. New generations of viewers were not alive to remember that it was little over two decades ago when Ellen Degeneres came out on her own sitcom in 1997, to intense public scrutiny.
“Visible: Out on Television” premiered Feb. 14 on Apple TV+.