Ryan White and Jessica Hargrave first met when they were 10 years old in Atlanta and immediately bonded. Two years later they had made their first film, and later they formed a production company together, Tripod Media. White is currently directing the new five part documentary series “Visible: Out On Television,” and he and Hargrave are also producers.
The series – which debuted Feb. 14 on Apple TV+ – is a comprehensive view of LGBTQ representation on TV, with archival footage and almost a hundred interviews including Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, Dustin Lance Black, Margaret Cho, Billy Porter and more. Also interviewed are Wanda Sykes and Wilson Cruz, both of whom are executive producers.
White first met with Apple a few years ago at Sundance to discuss the series. For principal producers David Bender and David Permut, who had pitched the series to Apple earlier, it was a long-time labor of love. Once the project was off the ground, all involved felt it needed to focus both on current television as well as early portrayals. “That was the agreement with Apple from the beginning,” said White. “I said I really liked the idea but I want it be a real documentary film series not just a fast clip show – and I just don’t want it to be modern TV. More than half of the series is ancient history to some people, but I have been really pleased with people’s reaction.”
The first episode looks at some very early portrayals on groundbreaking series such as “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” as well as newcasts and how reporters and TV stations chose to cover homosexuality. White was too young to watch “All in the Family” but admits that some of the progressive episodes he has watched blew his mind. The second and third episodes focus on the ’70s and the ’80s, when AIDS began decimating the gay community. Oprah Winfrey becomes an unexpected ally during that time.
The first gay person Hargraves remembers watching on TV was Wilson Cruz in “My So-Called Life.” “I wasn’t an avid TV watcher, but something struck me as being unique and different with this,” she says. “It’s amazing to be able to work with him. He’s been an advocate for a long time and it’s great to bring his story and others to life.”
For White, his first remembrance of LGBTQ life was on “The Real World.” He vividly remembers Pedro Zamora on that show and how everyone in America fell in love with him.
The series does a fascinating job of showing the progress the LGBTQ community has made over the decades, but White says the team is careful in the series not to pat themselves on the back. “Of course there has been a tremendous amount of progress,” he says. “But we want to interrogate TV from all sides. A non-binary editor in their 20s watched ‘Soap’ from the ’70s and found it problematic, but people back then embraced it. We can’t feel we have reached the finish level. There are so much frontiers and so much that has moved backward. An example is the lack of trans male actors on TV. We can also focus more on the B and T in the LGBTQ community and the diversity in those communities. There is work to be done.”
White and Hargrave collaborated together on the acclaimed 2014 documentary “The Case Against 8” – dealing with the five-year battle to overturn Proposition 8 – with White co-directing and Hargrave producing.
The film won the Directing Award at Sundance and was shortlisted for the Academy Awards® for Best Documentary. Later it won two Emmy Awards. Both White and Hargrave credit that project for giving them a lot of professional and personal confidence.
“Visible: Out On Television” is currently airing on Apple TV+