Visible: Out on Television

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Visible: Out on Television TV Poster Image
Docuseries about LGBTQ TV history inspires and informs.

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Positive Messages

Demonstrates how television is both a positive and negative part of LGBTQ history. Themes include homophobia, activism, HIV/AIDS, racism. Work of LGBTQ individuals in TV industry is also highlighted, often within context of seeking wider acceptance for the community. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Television industry leaders, activists, and celebrities talk about their struggles in and contributions to the entertainment business as it relates to LGBTQ community. Children of influential figures throughout LGBTQ history also share their insight. Role models define themselves as gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, gender fluid.  

Violence

Instances of violence against LGBTQ community members, both on- and off-screen, is discussed. Actors share fears about facing discrimination and losing jobs as a result of coming out.

Sex

Discusses how television went from incorporating subtle hints at illicit intimate homosexual relationships to explicit sex scenes. Couples are shown holding hands and kissing, and some excerpts take it a little farther. Sex is discussed within context of HIV/AIDS.

Language

Curses like "s--t" and "f--k" are sometimes audible. A range of derogatory epithets like "f-g" are discussed, but in a historically informative context. 

Consumerism

Songs, popular TV shows, tabloids, etc., are discussed within historical and informative context. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and smoking are visible in featured TV scenes. Efforts to secure important drugs to help HIV/AIDS patients is a major theme. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Visible: Out on Television is a docuseries about LGBTQ TV history. It features lots of archival footage, as well as current interviews with activists, celebrities, and entertainment industry leaders about the role of television in the evolving representations of the LGBTQ community and the impact it's had on social change. Themes range from homophobia, suicide, and racism to the different ways that television can be used to encourage empathy and acceptance. There's some cursing, and drinking and smoking are visible in some TV show excerpts. Violent historical moments are examined, and some classic TV shows feature violent scenes and stereotypes. The portrayal of same-sex sexual relationships is addressed, and serious issues like HIV/AIDS and racial biases are also discussed. All of this is offered in an informative context. 

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What's the story?

Executive-produced by Wilson Cruz and Wanda Sykes, VISIBLE: OUT ON TELEVISION is a five-part documentary series that chronicles the history of LGBTQ representation on American television. It offers an in-depth look at how small-screen portrayals of LGBTQ community members have evolved over the last 70 years. The different ways television was (and continues to be) used as a tool for raising awareness, and as a platform for activism, are also addressed. It also delves into how LGBTQ writers, actors, producers, and journalists in the industry are creating opportunities for a more inclusive media, and encouraging wider acceptance. 

Is it any good?

The compilation of archival footage and interviews offers an informative and entertaining look at LGBTQ television history. From the homophobic McCarthy hearings in the 1950s to nonbinary characters created for TV shows like Orange Is the New Black, this series discusses how American LGBTQ portrayals have evolved from caricature-type figures that reinforce stereotypes to contemporary representations of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. A long list of celebrities and activists like Rob Reiner, Janice Mock, Lena Waithe, and Margaret Cho share their thoughts about these changes, as well as the political and social climates that helped induce them. Some folks, like Project Runway's Tim Gunn and comedian Ellen DeGeneres, also share poignant stories that underscore the influence these TV representations can have on people's journeys toward self-acceptance. But while it offers many narratives of struggle and survival, it sometimes oversimplifies the political, social, and economic factors that contribute to the way the LGBTQ community is negotiated on the small screen. It offers little discussion about bisexual representation, and also glosses over some key points in order to fit the entire historical presentation into five installments. Nonetheless, Visible: Out on Television  remains an important and robust series that we can learn a lot from.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Visible: Out on Television highlights as the most important moments in United States LGBTQ television history. Can you think of others? Are there people or issues who aren't represented in this series?

  • How much credit should television be given for changing national attitudes about the LGBTQ community? Is seeing LGBTQ community members on television enough for people to change their minds about them? How do stereotypes impact this phenomenon?

  • Visible: Out on Television suggests that today the LGBTQ community is more visible and better represented in the TV industry than in past decades. Do you agree? What needs to be done to ensure that this continues?

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