For the last few fews, June brings with it the sinking sensation that also accompanies the holiday season’s inevitable promise of yet through another iteration of A Christmas Carol. “Oh no,” one starts thinking over Memorial Day, “we’re going to be subjected to the retelling of Stonewall again.”
Like Dickens adaptations, every year may include a new take (an anniversary, the trans community, the BIPOC protestors) but the recounting inevitably gives the impression that gay history began in 1969 with bricks thrown in Greenwich Village, then progressed in a direct line to disco nights with quaaludes, then AIDS, then Ellen, then Lil Nas X.
In other words, the traditional retelling of the history of the LGBTQ+ community in America is as banal and skimpy as the truth is knotty and interesting.
So you’d be forgiven for dreading new six-part documentary Pride as unnecessary homework. Now streaming on Hulu, Pride even as the carefully delineated episode structure of a syllabus: One episode per decade, starting with the 1950s and chronicles life in America through the 2000s. But this time, the creative team telling the story is as impatient and bored with the usual version as we are. Forget Stonewall as a focal point; Pride is here to tell a much more sprawling story, assigning a different director (including Cheryl Dunye and Tom Kalin) to each episode.
The results are bristling with nuance and humor, as well as the inevitable heartbreaks. Filled with archival footage, new interviews, and recreations from performers like Alia Shawkat, Pride effortlessly covers the range of the LGBTQ+ experiences by focusing on a discrete series of people and events. The ’70s, so often reduced to the Village People and disco, is here represented by Dunye with the lesbian movement and how it clashed and meshed with the simultaneous women’s movement. And Kalin’s ’90s episode looks at the decade through the lens of pop culture—but not the carefully neutered TV shows and movies so often associated with the Clinton years. These images are more protean, ranging from the usual suspects of the gay indie movement at the decade’s beginning to Jerry Springer episodes to the ways in which right-wing evangelicals co-opted the content being created by queer filmmakers.
Through it all, the thread connecting each episode (and decade) is the rise of the Christian right, which happened very slowly and then all at once. As homosexuals started coming out of the closet, so did homophobe, who quickly coalesced around their so-called Christian faith and leaders like Anita Bryant (one of the few well-known figures from the era represented here) and Phyllis Schlafly, seen in an old interview fanning the flames of the bathroom wars as pegged to the Equal Rights Amendment.
The history of queer activism for the last 70 years is hardly a cheerful one. But one of the great, moving aspects of the limited series is how every decade reveals the ways in which queer people created their own communities in the face of injustice or just plain distrust. If the last seven decades have seen the LGBTQ+ community under attack from new villains every 10 years or so, we have never lost sight of one very important thing: We’re more interesting than straight people.
But we’re also complicit—and no moments feel as damning as looking back on how whole-heartedly we embraced content that was centered on cis, wealthy, white characters. From The L Word to Will & Grace, there was an appalling lack of diversity not only in terms of representation but in terms of the stories being told. To Pride‘s credit, the final episode doesn’t belabor the point, choosing instead to focus its first segment on Margaret Cho’s career evolution from comedian to activist before segueing into the way the increased acceptance of gay and lesbians in mainstream culture left the trans community even deeper in the shadows.
That may be the series’ true gift: By showing the ways barriers were broken through attrition over the last seven decades, Pride gives us a moment to catch our breath and once again hope for the best in the current battles of visibility and equal rights. And as the people profiled here understood, there will always be work to be done—but we have to make time to celebrate ourselves, too.