To appreciate change it’s essential to take a larger view, the bigger, historical perspective.
This June we’re gifted with another opportunity for just that. Director Andrew Goldberg in association with Oregon Public Television and PBS brings us a one-hour premiere, “OUT In America,” on Sunday, June 5.
Young and mature, single and coupled, corporate and working class Americans tell their stories in a series of heartfelt, hopeful portraits. “Out In America” is a great opportunity for mainstream America to see that the gay community is bigger and far more diverse than a 20-second clip of a gay pride parade.
Inevitably, bee-hived cross-dressers and leathered up go-go boys are all that splash the screen on those “news” stories. God bless drag queens and go-go boys, but unfortunately these are the only models for a big section of Middle Americans who reside in thousands of small and midsized towns between the coasts.
It’s a sad fact that an alarming number of Americans still think of gay people as a myth, something like a cross between unicorns and boogymen, a rarified species that thrives only in large, urban areas. “OUT In America” debunks the myth with real people telling real and generally unremarkable stories in a manner that’s both understated and terribly effective, and that’s the point.
Hopefully, the viewer gets it. Hopefully the viewer understands: “These are my neighbors.”
Goldberg separates his stories into different themes in a series of breaks. A word in white print on a black background appears on the screen; words like, Love, Homosexuality, Passion or Death. A quote or sentiment fades in to flesh out that word. The use of these plain yet elegant segues is tremendously effective and story telling at its best.
“This is part of the film we spent an enormous amount of time thinking about,” Goldberg said from his New York office. “Here was my issue: I did not want to use a narrator to connect the scenes. I did not want to use a chapter heading or a nameplate on the screen. That would have been too familiar.”
“When people read clichés it doesn’t have the emotional impact. We felt it was so important to see these things as connected, these words and stories, and for any given word we used we knew a brilliant person had something to say about that word, someone like Gandhi or Margaret Mead. In other cases though it was someone in the show itself who summed it up in just a few sentences,” Goldberg said.
And that’s the strength of good documentary story telling. When you give a person the opportunity in a comfortable and non-threatening setting, no one can tell the story better than the person that owns the story.
From the screener
The first couple introduced are bi-racial and in a long-term relationship by any standard.
“I’m Harold, and I’m Harold,” the Harolds said separately, “and we’ve been together for 45 years,” they proclaim in unison. These two are, quite simply, adorable.
Harold No. 1 is a diminutive white gentleman and Harold No. 2 is a lanky African-American. The difference in stature is striking, but the common ground of love and respect is even more notable. It’s obvious that these two men are still quite in love.
“When I first saw him, I was in love. I thought he was cute and I just felt like I wanted to hold him or cuddle him and take care of him,” Harold No. 2 reminisced.
In another sequence, singer/songwriter Chely Wright recalls her feelings for girls.
“I had a pretty intense crush on a friend in high school. I just loved her,” Wright said. “I loved listening to music with her. I loved seeing her in the hallway. I was so happy when she got the tennis shoes she wanted to get. I just remember asking, ‘How’s your day?’ and when she’d say, ‘I’m good.” I’d be so happy: Oh God, she’s good!”
“OUT In America” is crisp, healthy and enlightening. There’s a lot of content here, something for we the enchanted and something for those poor souls that would be shocked to discover that their hairdresser is gay.
Toward the end of our conversation, Andrew Goldberg seemed especially proud of the segment titled “Freedom.”
“It (coming out) is not about what other people feel, but how it makes you feel. There’s a way we’re trained to talk about coming out and that’s by speaking about other people’s responses. But coming out isn’t about what other people feel. It’s about what you feel.”
This June, celebrate Pride by encouraging others to view “OUT In America.”
That will make you feel good too.
“OUT In America” premieres Sunday, June 5, at 8 pm PST on Channel 15 in San Diego. Check your local listings for the PBS station.
Kurt Niece is a freelance journalist from Tuscon, Ariz., and author of "The Breath of Rapture." He writes about television for Echo Magazine in Phoenix and SDGLN. He is also an artist who sells his work on his website.