Bytes to Binge:
Genre: Docuseries regarding LGBTQIA+ representation on TV
Duration: 54 minutes each
No. of episodes: 5 part Docuseries
Where: Apple TV
Directed: Ryan White
‘Visible’ is a brilliant one-stop shop look at the journey of how a minority can be perceived, labelled, condemned, shamed and wrongly understood by the lack of knowledge and at the fear of the unknown. It visits this notion mostly during the late 20th century and through American TV.
It is scathingly cruel, it is brutal but it is the harsh reality into how the LGBTQIA+ representation on TV were perceived 70 years ago. And it transcends into the changes that have taken place over the last seven decade and boy have minds developed! No pun intended.
The first part of this docuseries covers the beginnings on television and the absolute lack of represention of gay people. It is rather impressive with how the show has pulled in numerous renowned celebrities to talk about their personal experiences, with Ellen as the biggest example! Although now a household name in television and philanthropy, the path Ellen has had to pave to be heard is nothing less than courageous.
They all talk about not being able to see people like them on TV growing up and how some of them hid the truth about themselves on a day to day basis. It is also quite impressive how stars, communities and individuals have spoken up, started that conversation in the last number of years and inculcated a sense of reality and truth about the LGBTQIA+ community and as a result we have listened. A long road still to go, but their voice is being heard and laws and being changed. Though some not so much….as one can imagine the amount of undercover secrets one might have had to tell for a conventional rise to fame.
Sheila James is one such TV starlet. She played a tomboyish character of Zelda Gilroy in the ‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’, who was set to star in the spin-off until orders from top executives at CBS told her they were about to kill off the show because she was “too butch”.
Other fascinating threads and celebrity stories continue. One where Raymond Burr reveals that he was forbidden to come out as a gay by film studios. Although, he rose to fame subsequently but at what personal cost? Michael Douglas talks about how he and his family adored Liberace after he played him in ‘Beyond the Candelabra’ and how his mother and everyone’s mother thought he was so dreamy while not knowing he was also gay. He was perhaps an example of a non-stereo typical version of someone who is gay. Less of the flamboyant dressing and dramatic hand gestures. Back in the 50’s and 60’s they were openly mocked and later impersonated on TV as laughable sidekicks or cameo artists.
Although this provides a stark reflection in what is perhaps true across the world mind even while transvestites, gays, bisexuals etc. have been a part of society for hundreds of years! They are members of the community and not mentally ill! This point is depicted cleverly with Richard Socarides. He worked for the Clinton Administration and for me was one of the most fascinating parts to this docuseries. Especially given he is the son of Charles Socarides, a psychiatrist in the time when TV was shown in black and white and who appeared on the CBS documentary spoken about on this series, declaring ‘gays have a mental disorder’. His words were taken as the ultimate truth by the audience. It was interesting to hear about how Richard ‘came out’ to this anti-gay father, (recreated in ‘When We Rise’). How time and knowledge can come together and how each generation can learn more.
It’s a good watch with some sizzling scenes but definitely not a Friday night favourite.