Bil Browning

Review: PBS's Out In America

Filed By Bil Browning | June 04, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Gay Icons and History
Tags: Kate Clinton, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Out In America, PBS, PJ Serrano, Rev Peter Gomez, Urvashi Vaid

It's a crapshoot whether or not I actually watch the many screeners that show up in my mailbox on a weekly basis. When PBS's Out In America documentary arrived though, I'd already committed to the publicist that I'd check it out and write this review. After all, it premiers soon - June 8 at 8pm but check your local listings, of course.

I told the publicist to send it along mostly because there were so many friends and Bilerico contributors in the film. Film_Cowboy.jpgWhen it arrived, we had a living room full of people (including several Bilerico contributors though none were in the film) and we decided to give it a shot. We joked that if it was too bad, we could continue talking and drinking our wine while it played in the background.

Right as the movie started, Jerame remembered this hilarious web series we all needed to see on YouTube right now, and the documentary was forgotten. About an hour later, giggle satiated, we settled back down to watch Out In America. As it started, we continued to chatter and make silly remarks about the movie and our friends in it. ("Good Lord! Kate Clinton is in this too?! You can't throw a lesbian without hitting Kate any more!")

As the flick hit its stride, the small talk and wry jokes ground to a halt and all eyes turned to the screen. By the time it was half finished, the room was mostly quiet and rapt as these average people with extraordinary stories held us in thrall.

You should definitely check it out. Everyone in the room loved it. Hell, Jerame went to work the next day and told his co-workers they had to see it too.

Trailer and more below. So is the press release, which makes it sound about as dry as toast, but don't base your opinion on that. We're a pretty fickle and picky audience, but the entire group gave it the Bilerico stamp of approval.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS Specials.

Emmy award-winning director Andrew Goldberg, in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting, today announced a new PBS special, OUT in America. The one-hour film will premiere, Wednesday, June 8 at 8:00 pm ET/PT (check local listings) on PBS in conjunction with National Gay & Lesbian Pride Month.

OUT in America is an uplifting collection of unique, transformative stories and inspiring personal narratives told through the lens of the country's most prominent LGBT figures and pioneers, as well as many average, yet extraordinary, citizens from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender communities. The program weaves together diverse stories - from urban and rural America, from the heartland to New England, from San Francisco to Harlem. Deeply moving and often humorous, viewers will get a glimpse of awakenings, first crushes, unlikely soul mates, intimacy and liberation. While separated by circumstance and upbringing, the film's subjects are all united in their shared experiences of self-discovery, coming out, pride and love as well as a triumph over adversity and a true sense of belonging. Against the backdrop of historical events, each also traces their own hopes, struggles, influences and contributions towards advancements in equality and broad social change.

"The first of its kind, OUT in America is a more realistic portrait of LGBT life than almost anything seen on TV before," says Goldberg. "So often, media coverage of LGBT life in America is polarizing or exploitative of controversy and homophobia, or alternately LGBT individuals are presented as caricatures of a stereotype. OUT in America however focuses on empowerment, diversity and relationships."

The special features interviews with and anecdotes from cult TV personality Andy Cohen (Bravo TV Host), famed Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin, country music star Chely Wright, humorist Kate Clinton, as well as legendary LGBT activists James Hormel (philanthropist), Urvashi Vaid (former Executive Director of the pre-eminent civil rights organization National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, recently cited in Out Magazine's list of most influential men and women in America) and Dr. Patricia Hawkins (psychologist renowned for her early work with HIV patients). Other influential lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people in the film include: Reverend Peter Gomes, who came out on the steps of Memorial Church at Harvard; PJ Serrano, Puerto Rico's first openly gay and HIV positive political candidate; a transgender police lieutenant, who transitioned while on active duty; a Muslim lesbian from the country of Mauritius; a gay rancher; the organizer of Capital Queer Prom; a Latino rapper; a West Point graduate and former Captain in the US Army; a drag queen; a great-grandmother; and "The Harolds," a giddy bi-racial couple in their 80s, who reminisce, in unison, about their five decades together. "We've had a good life. We still love each other ... it just gets better."

OUT in America examines the ways in which LGBT Americans obtained a sense of freedom from social oppression by reconciling conflicts between their sexuality and other prominent factors in their public lives such as faith, family and service in the military. The film addresses the complexity of an individual's tendency to embrace multiple identities across lines of race, gender, class, religion, age and nationality.

With early media coverage and public attention on the community primarily focused on gay men, OUT in America also looks at the patriarchal shift and growing role of lesbians in the rights movements, in particular their visibility in marches on Washington, a division and subsequent alignment with the feminist and women's liberation movements and most significantly, the organizational change and growth in leadership as healthcare providers and activists during the early years of the AIDS crisis.

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Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | June 5, 2011 6:54 AM

I saw an earlier cut of this and it really is terrific - am glad to see that even the jaded cynics like your group loved it ;-)
seriously, I think the strength of it is in its diversity on all level - particularly the inclusion of bi voices, trans voices and people of color. Remember that this is airing on a national network and will be seen by a very general audience (PBS is on the whole going to be a more friendly audience, but still). and this is exactly the audience that will get something from as sophisticated a piece as this documentary - my hope is that with the PBS name attached it can and will be used in schools etc.

also, don't forget that Two Spirits also premieres on PBS later in the month, as a finale for the Independent Lens series, they are doing a ton of great outreach on Facebook in particular.

David Castillo David Castillo | June 5, 2011 9:10 PM

I think I may have been a little less skeptical than the rest of the group watching, and I was heartened when it turned out to be a really great film. I enjoyed learning new stories that I had not heard before. It's a great way to kick off Pride and PBS is to be commended for airing it.

Sorry, but I don't share your view of the film. It struck me as a total rehash of 'gay light' made more for a "share the good news about PBS and donate" purpose than to really say anything new about the LGBTQ community. The title was "Coming Out" and it was originally promoted as an examination of the coming out process. That lasted about 5 minutes. Yes, it's supposedly for a general audience, but that doesn't mean you use an hour of precious network time which could be used for a higher quality examination of issues surrounding queer/trans issues. Even more problematic since PBS recently showed a highly flawed film about Stonewall which literally erased people of color and most trans people from the historic record. What, only members of the gay community who are likely to donate to PBS get included?

Instead, we got the usual AIDS rehash (which has been far better done in a number of other films), mentions of Stonewall (while ignoring all the acts of resistance which proceeded it), misstatements about trans activism by GL people (supposedly there was no trans movement until the mid-70s... really? Tell that Sylvia Rivera and the women at Compton's Cafeteria) and the trans community was represented by two middle aged, middle-class white people (and Dana Beyer isn't some long term trans activist... she's a relative newcomer). Stephen Thorne has an interesting story... I wish more time had been allotted to him and his journey. Also interesting is that most everyone else gets partners (well, not the professor at Harvard) but the two trans people are just... in a vacuum? If you're going to talk about relationships, then talk about them.

The two senior couples were adorable. I really wish they'd just made a film about growing old in the queer/trans community, or long term relationships... it would have been a much more interesting and beautiful film rather than hearing James Hormel, Chely Wright and Amistead Maupid (for the umpteenth time).