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Discover the Rich Culture and History of LGBTQ Life in 'Pride'

A stunning new docuseries on Hulu explores six decades of gay life in America

A crowd at an LGBTQ rally holding a sign that says "We Resist"

FX

En español | More like an indie film festival than a traditional docuseries, Pride (FX on Hulu) is really six films about U.S. gay history from 1950 to now, by leading LGBTQ directors. You can watch each as a standalone documentary, but they're so vividly personal, you'll be tempted to binge them.

"Pride takes you through the modern history of the LGBTQ struggle — the challenges, wars, triumphs and icons that got us to where we are now,” says Village Voice writer Michael Musto, a longtime and vibrant chronicler of gay culture, who's interviewed in Pride. “The series covers the rise of trans visibility, the downtown ‘80s club culture, the oppression of HIV and the accompanying rise in homophobia, and many other topics. It's eye opening and head spinning."

What's different — and outstanding — about ‘Pride'

The series is not conventionally encyclopedic and straightforward, like a Ken Burns project, which means it's light on some events you'd expect to hear plenty about, like the 1969 Stonewall riot, and it's got some surprises. “We didn't just tell the stories that have already been told,” says Alex Smith, who codirected the stellar episode “1980s: Underground,” which draws on 1,200 hours of amazing footage of New York's underground gay scene shot by Nelson Sullivan from 1982 to 1989, when only insiders (or Musto readers) knew who RuPaul was.

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There wasn't such a wealth of footage of gay life in the 1950s, so the series’ first episode — “1950s: People Had Parties” — uses actors in dramatic re-creations, for example, to tell the story of Madeleine Tress, a government worker fired for being gay, who went on to be a San Francisco lawyer arguing Supreme Court cases. You've heard of the ‘50s Red Scare, but there was also a Lavender Scare that prompted authorities to fire 10,000 gay people like Tress. Pride covers the era's “Pervert Elimination Campaign,” which swept up the gay son of U.S. Sen. Lester Hunt of Wyoming. Political enemies such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy used the scandal to blackmail Hunt, who committed suicide in his office.

And yet the ‘50s were also a time when World War II veteran Christine Jorgensen became famous for changing her sex and wound up not in prison but in the movies, an influential celebrity who pioneered acceptance of trans people. In a deep irony, the world of public persecution fueled a private world — a nod to the episode's title.

"It made the party better,” Smith says, “because if you are repressing parts of who you are in order to fit in, in order to not get arrested, fined and jailed, when you find a space where you can actually be yourself surrounded by other people free to be themselves, it's an explosion of freedom, explosion of creativity. Nobody wants to be held back — but when you let yourself go, it's going to be a bigger burst of energy and joy.” Smith loves to quote famed director John Waters: “The best parties were the ones that were about to be busted.” Part of the gift of this footage, Smith says, is to witness people “basking in the freedom of not constantly being watched and reported on. And it's a very special energy that doesn't exist anymore."

The culture-shifting tragedy of AIDS

Smith's episode, which covers the historic ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) movement that erupted to battle the epidemic, reveals unexpected insights, he says. “An important thing that has never been discussed enough is the role of lesbians in ACT UP,” Smith says, “Ann Northrop and many others. That community really came together as part of the same chosen family — they fought for each other."

Further, Smith says, the impact of news coverage of the AIDS crisis opened many Americans’ eyes to gay life. “It's awful that it took a tragedy like AIDS to make people talk about homosexuality,” he says, “but before, it was something you just didn't talk about. Like, my grandmother had a crush on Liberace and it didn't occur to her why he was still single. There was a lack of knowledge.” Suddenly, Smith says, “homosexuality was brought into everyone's home because of the TV and the news. And it sparked a lot of conversation.” The tragedy forged community and intensified a sense of identity. “This terrible thing also resulted in advancements and people growing stronger out of it. It's very queer to say, ‘I will not let this thing just kill me — I will not hide anymore.'"

Pride's biggest gift

For Smith, what may be the series’ greatest impact is its variety of timelines, events and points of view. “By having all these different stories from each decade, we're able to show that being queer is not monolithic,” he says. Idiosyncratic and eclectic, Pride illuminates a rich, complex community, and illuminates its vital chapters of American history long overlooked.

Pride is available for streaming on Hulu. Get more information and watch here

Tim Appelo covers entertainment and is the film and TV critic for AARP. Previously, he was the entertainment editor at Amazon, video critic at Entertainment Weekly, and a critic and writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, The Village Voice and LA Weekly.

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