“United we stand, divided they catch us one by one,” a quote from José Sarria, the first openly gay American political activist opens the pilot episode. Directed by Stephen Kijak and Kimberly Reed and narrated by the oh-so-feisty Billy Porter, “Equal” delivers compelling insight into the history of oppression in the LGBTQ+ community.
Anchored around the stories of three transgender pioneers — Lucy Hicks Anderson, Jack Starr and Christine Jorgenson — the docuseries contradicts the notion that all conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ rights began after Stonewall by exploring the early influence of groups like The Mattachine Society and The Daughters of Bilitis and horrific turning points like the police raid at the 1965 New Year’s Eve Gay Ball in San Francisco, viewers are able to emerge with a deeper understanding of the history of the LGBTQ+ community and the unmistakable role sanctioned, police violence has played in their continued oppression.
The series has a vivid tone that easily allows one to be sucked into the storytelling. Each of the icon’s stories are delivered through a first pronoun basis, and the scenes are beautifully performed through creative dramatizations. The dialogue often is supported with medium shots that significantly illustrate the function of the docuseries’ ability to enhance one’s interest and establish more of an intimate relationship with the viewer for storytelling. The portrayals of Lucy Hicks (Alexandra Grey, “Empire”) and Lorraine Hansberry (Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”) deliver powerful performances, with the other roles shining as well.
What stands out most is the accuracy of representation within the casting of the characters. Rather than casting straight, cisgender actors to re-tell their community’s own history, “Equal” is a show that is by the LGBTQ+ community, for the LGBTQ+ community. There is a genuine relationship that the actors and actresses have with their characters that makes the story much more compelling.
Despite the series’ quick cuts between shots, it is still easy to stay intrigued and keep up with the timeline of events. However, it’s unfortunate that the series abruptly stops at the Stonewall riots at the start of the 1970s considering there’s more history that should be excavated.
For those wishing to understand and learn the historical events in three decades of the LGBTQ+ community, “Equal” is the number one resource. Because of the way society is today, this docuseries is necessary. Let’s hope that as the world becomes more accepting of the LGBTQ+community, it will continue to progress and never repeat such events.
Daily Arts Contributor Jessica Curney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.