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Equal Review 2020 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Stars: Billy Porter, Anne Ramsay, Cheyenne Jackson
The four-part docuseries Equal, narrated by Billy Porter, takes a look at the leaders of the LGBTQIA+-rights movement in the days before the Stonewall uprising brought the issue of gay rights to the attention of the majority of the public. Through archival footage and interviews, as well as reenactments populated by well-known actors in the LGBTQIA+ community, showrunner Stephen Kijak (Jim Parsons and Greg Berlanti are also executive producers) take viewers through the history of the movement in the days when gays did not only have to hide their sexuality from the public, but were often beaten by the cops and arrested on phony charges because they were doing something supposedly indecent.
Opening Shot: Shots of the various actors playing the historic figures profiled on Equal, interspersed with photos from the Stonewall uprising in 1969.
The Gist: The first episode takes a look at two early groups that at first existed as a way for gay men and women to find and support each other but both served an activist role in the early days of the movement. The Mattachine Society, founded in San Franscisco by Harry Hay (Anthony Rapp), was founded in 1950, with Hay meeting along with similarly left-leaning friends like Dale Jennings (Cheyenne Jackson).
Responding to the “lavender scare,” where Joseph McCarthy’s congressional committee was spurring fears that all gays were Communists, Hay and Jennings stepped up their activism, publishing the first magazine for the gay community and even testifying before Congress. Jennings’ activism was sparked by an incident where he was entrapped by a cop and arrested on vagrancy charges.
The other group is The Daughters of Bilitis, a San Francisco-based organization founded by Phyllis Lyon (Heather Matarazzo) and Del Martin (Shannon Purser) in 1955, who met and fell for each other when they worked for a construction trade publication. Like Mattachine, Daughters of Bilitis started as a place for lesbians to find each other and gather without fear of reprisal or having to hide who they were. They also put out a magazine, and we see an anonymous reader named J.M. (Sara Gilbert) writing in to demonstrate that the magazine led people in less tolerant areas the country to feel confident that they could make a difference through their pens and typewriters.
Our Take: The idea behind Equal is an admirable one; not many people outside the LGBTQIA+ community know about the pioneers of the gay-rights movement in the pre-Stonewall “dark ages.” We certainly didn’t. So we’re fully on board with Kijak’s ability to find footage and interviews of these pioneers to bring to light a portion of gay-rights history that gives some perspective; the movement didn’t begin with Stonewall, it just was more underground before the uprising.
Having Porter provide the narration was a brilliant move, because he has the capability to bring his signature cheekiness but still keep the tone serious when it needs to be. He was allowed to interject lines that were both funnier than the standard dry docuseries narration but also spoke to the struggle that the community goes through even today. But he also demonstrates the direct line that can be drawn from the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis to same-sex marriage and other basic rights gays have now.
We’re never a fan of reenactments, but we see them as a necessary evil here, mainly because audio and video of some of these pioneers is scarce. The idea that these historical figures are being played by well-known actors who have been out and active for the LGBTQIA+ community for years was a nice move. One quibble, though: When we heard a person’s voice and the graphic said “Voice of”, we assumed that meant we were hearing from the real person and not the actor portraying that person. But at times that was confusing, leading us to wonder who we were hearing from. It didn’t take that much away from our enjoyment, but it did leave us a bit confused.
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