With excellent storytelling, fantastic vintage photos and footage, stylish period reenactments, and Billy Porter's inimitable narration, this docuseries frames LGBTQ+ history as heroic and dazzling. Even those up on their queer history and culture haven't heard some of these stories: how lesbian pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon first met at an office party, the tragic tale of early gender non-conformist Lucy Hicks, the riot at San Francisco's Compton's Cafeteria that predated Stonewall by three years. Along with the great stories, often voiced by people who were there and did that, Equal beautifully drives home the way it felt to live in less tolerant times. "You could be arrested, you could lose your job, you'd be thrown out of your church, you might be institutionalized and thrown out of your house," says one participant.
Against that backdrop, those who found a way to live a more authentic life emerge as the folk heroes and revolutionaries they were. And Equal makes you feel that too, the thrill that early queer pioneers found in rising up against their oppressors. "By day we were ordinary people," says one founding member of 1950s gay group the Mattachine Society, "but by night we became wild radicals, determined to change the world." It's exciting stuff, and so are the reenactments that surround these historical details, which feature name actors: Cheyenne Jackson, Sara Gilbert, Samira Wiley, Anthony Rapp. In exquisite period costumes, the actors ably dramatize moments like the "lewd contact" arrest that catapulted Mattachine Society co-founder Dale Jennings into activism. Porter's narration adds some special flair too. Equal isn't the whole story of the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality; that's still being written. But as a whirlwind tour through some of the movement's highlights, it's a delight.