There have always been LGBTQ people in this world. There isn’t a single culture—in the world—that does not have people that prefer their own sex, or prefer both sexes or feel that they were born into the wrong body. “We’re here. We’re queer, get used to it”—borrowing a rallying cry from decades before, the struggle continues and with a new decade brings new hope.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons behind Apple TV+’s “Visible: Out on Television” a five-part documentary now playing on the new Apple TV Plus streaming service created by Emmy-nominated filmmakers Ryan White and Jessica Hargrave and executive producers Wanda Sykes and Wilson Cruz.
While television has been around since the 1930s, it wasn’t until the ’70s that the LGBTQ community started seeing positive portrayals of themselves onscreen.
Here’s the question: it’s 50 years later, have there been significant improvements in how the LGBTQ community is depicted in film and television? It might feel like pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking but I venture to answer with a yes and as a recent piece of evidence, I offer up Apple TV+’s “Visible: Out on Television.”
And one of the positive moments for change is Cruz. While most actors will never become important markers in entertainment history, that’s not the case with Cruz who walked into that position––smashing stereotypes––in 1994 when he introduced the world to Ricky Vasquez on ABC’s “My So-Called Life.” What made the news is that he was the first openly gay actor to play an openly queer character in a leading role on a network primetime television series. At the time, he was about 20 years old.
And now back to Apple TV+’s “Visible: Out on Television” which Cruz calls a “love letter” to the medium’s power and a strong testament to how LGBTQ people and their allies harnessed TV to tell the community’s stories.
Here is what Wilson Cruz, who is currently starring on CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery” and Hulu’s “Bravest Knight,” had to share about his role as executive producer on “Visible: Out on Television.”
AMSTERDAM NEWS: Why do you think Apple TV+’s “Visible: Out on Television” is important? WILSON CRUZ: It’s easy to turn on your television now and go, ‘Almost every show has an LGBTQ character,’ and just assume that that’s a natural thing. But, you know, that didn’t just happen. It happened because a lot of people risked a lot to tell those stories.
AMN: That’s very true. You are a part of that movement. I mean you stepped into the media spotlight playing a gay character. In 2020, it seems so odd that it was such a big deal in 1994.
WC: (laughing) Yes, by playing Ricky Vasquez in “My So-Called Life,” it made me the first openly gay actor playing a gay character. You understand when you are that person it comes with some responsibilities.
AMN: Elaborate, please.
WC: I asked myself how do I help afford this opportunity to help those that will come after me.
AMN: It had an impact, for sure.
WC: I believed Ricky Vasquez [in ABC’s “My So-Called Life”] became a catalyst for more representation for LGBTQ stories to be told—especially for young LGBTQ people of color.
AMN: Television was, and still is, a powerful medium. Do you agree?
WC: I do. It’s through television that we got to tell the entire society and our own culture what our lives are like. Because of that amount of authenticity, we were able to move the needle to acceptance.
AMN: What’s the next step?
WC: The next step toward progress is getting additional LGBTQ creators behind the camera as writers, directors, and producers.
AMN: Like Lena Waithe is doing.
WC: Like my friend, Lena Waithe is doing.
AMN: Like you are doing with Apple TV+’s “Visible: Out on Television.”
WC: (laughing) Like we are doing with Apple TV+’s “Visible: Out on Television.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.