Pride: Multi-faceted Perspective at Queer History

FX’s ‘Pride’ Multifaceted Look at Queer History

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

Coming of age as young queer is challenging, in part because one’s own cultural heritage is not commonly taught

The AIDS epidemic wiped out so much life, culture, and many potential guides; before that, the private lives of queer people looked unintelligible to others in the mainstream.

FX’s Pride is a series of six documentaries, each running around 45 minutes.

Jointly, these films attempt to tell the story of LGBTQ life in America in the late 20th century through the early 21st century. It’s an earnest goal, met with talent, ingenuity and seriousness of purpose.

Pride offers strong evidence of one community’s contributions to the nation through its long history. Queer and trans Americans have always been here.

The six films, produced by Vice and Killer Films, each appraise a different decade, from the 1950s to the 2000s, with the last installment encompasses the present day.

They’re executed with varying approaches: Cheryl Dunye’s film, about the 1970s, includes the pioneering lesbian filmmaker speaking directly to the camera.

Andrew Ahn’s look at the 1960s includes archival footage, also in the contemporaneous documentary “The Queen,” from a 1967 drag show.

Tom Kalin’s look at the 1950s includes the actor Alia Shawkat donning period costume to look and speak as an early queer pioneer.

Some of these devices are more effective than others, as all come from a place of deeply earnest, searching curiosity.

A device in the 1990s film in which contemporary queer people recite antigay speeches, like Pat Buchanan’s famous “culture war” address at the 1992 Republican National Convention, is well-meant but too obvious; the footage speaks for itself.

that film, directed by Yance Ford, brings together footage that was somewhat familiar, like the Buchanan speech, and some that felt brand-new, like a dialogue about obscenity between director Todd Haynes, whose films Vachon has long produced, and Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, moderated by Bryant Gumbel on “Today.”

This footage — of an artist defending his right to work pitted against a critic obsessed with what it is he’s depicting — aired on TV in living memory is striking.

Pride makes it clear that the history of queer people and of the movement for their liberation has come a long way, but haltingly, and as the result of monumental effort.

Pride uses interviews with activists, authors, academics, and others to examine different facets of culture: The fight for legal recognition, or for the right to express oneself, or for real depiction in media and the arts. This last element brings producer Vachon, a living fount of information on being out in the entertainment industry, on-camera for an interview.

As it goes on, its aperture widens, with the final installment coming to a close with images from last summer’s march for Black Trans Lives in Brooklyn.

Pride is the beginning of the story, told with certain key specifics, leaving the viewers curious to continue their own research.

Pride premieres on FX on May 14 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.