29 May 2007

Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil (Part Three)

ken burns+sarah

KEN BURNS with his lovely daughter, SARAH McMAHON

Wanted: Award-Winning Educational Documentarian!

The 2001 documentary Jazz made me a fan of Ken Burns, double Academy Award nominee and Emmy award-winning documentarian. While I wouldn't call myself a Jazz enthusiast, you'd have believed otherwise if you'd seen how fascinated I was by this PBS mini-series. As it unfolded over a succession of nights, I found myself completely drawn into its compelling story of a classic American music genre and all the legendary artists it produced. I remember how disappointed I felt at having to miss a couple of installments, and how pleased I was later when I found the complete series on VHS tape. Ken Burns was a filmmaker who definitely knew how to make history come alive for a mass audience! The degree of acclaim generated by Jazz and its predecessors, The Civil War (1990) and Baseball (1994) affirmed that I wasn't alone in that opinion.

Mr. Burns has produced other PBS projects since then, and they've been quite well-received; in my opinion, though, they've failed to show off his talents to their best advantage. I've got an idea that would surely put him back at the top of his game! If I could contact the filmmaker (and I actually have tried), I would ask him: Isn't it time you documented the history of Lesbians and Gay men? Why haven't we already seen such a film? Why hasn't PBS commissioned it? I can't think of any subject that would have more educational value, and the American people desperately need to be educated about this subject!

Much of what they know about Gay people is grossly inaccurate, yet they're going to the polls regularly to vote for or against our Civil Rights. In addition, hate crimes ordinances are being voted up or down by city councils all over the country. Issues involving Gay marriage and parenting are increasingly going before our national courts. The US military is straining for manpower, but large numbers of skilled Lesbian and Gay personnel are being expelled for no good reason. Openly Gay men are forbidden from donating blood, again, for no good reason!

Our government demands that other nations honor the basic Human Rights of their citizens even while practicing blatant sexual orientation discrimination as its official policy. What's more, it turns a blind eye when Lesbians and Gay men are persecuted, imprisoned and executed in nations like Zimbabwe, Egypt and Iran. All of this is happening in an atmosphere of profound ignorance, and it's simply intolerable!

We need a nationwide education initiative to facilitate a rational conversation about Gay identity and Gay issues. A multi-part public television series would be the perfect way to jump-start such an initiative. Is that such a radical concept? I don't think so. We've had miniseries on PBS about evangelical Christians and Muslims. We've had miniseries about the Black and Latino Rights movements. We've had documentaries about women's struggles for equality. It's our turn, dammit! Television should present the story of LGBT existence to Straight America, and for once, get the facts straight!

To be sure, a Gay history miniseries would spark controversy, even among some who identify as Gay. It would challenge religious orthodoxy, and the orthodoxy would no doubt retaliate. The Public Broadcasting System would likely be accused of "radical secularism", and its Federal funding would probably be threatened. None of those reasons justify not doing this kind of documentary. The risk of backlash is far preferable to living with the miserable status quo!

If PBS could lessen the tremendous amount of ignorance that exists about who and what Gay people are, it would be well worth the potential trouble! It would be worth a generation of Gay people pledging lifetime financial support to PBS, and if the documentary was as compelling as Roots, The Civil War, Eyes On The Prize or Jazz, I think that could happen. After all, there's every reason to believe that Lesbians and Gay men form a significant portion of the viewership for public TV!

So . . . are you listening, Mr. Burns? How's about it, Corporation for Public Broadcasting? Are you prepared to document a people whose incredible diversity encompasses every race, every religion, every class and every nation on Earth? Are you ready to tell the story of Magnus Hirschfeld, the pioneering German Gay Rights advocate? To introduce America to Edward Carpenter, a defiant openly Gay man in 19th century England? To discuss the influence Black Gay men had on the 1920s' literary and cultural movement known as The Harlem Renaissance? To describe how military purges of Lesbian and Gay soldiers during World War II directly led to the formation of modern Gay identity?

Don't you want to spotlight activists like Harry Hay, Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, Gay Rights pioneers whose activism predated Stonewall? To highlight the work of famous LGBT musicians like Dusty Springfield, Lesley Gore, Johnny Mathis, Elton John, Ricky Martin and Luther Vandross? To honor the work of famous LGBT actors like Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Danny Kaye, Tyrone Power, Sal Mineo, Dirk Bogarde, Paul Winfield and Raymond Burr? To focus not only on Gay contributions to the arts, but also to academia, politics, national defense and the health care fields?

How can you pass up a chance to explain the significance of the Stonewall rebellion and its aftermath? To reveal how groups like ACT-UP and Gay Men's Health Crisis helped turn the tide on the American AIDS epidemic? To examine the behind-the-scenes intrigue that led to the removal of homosexuality from the APA's list of mental illnesses, and the repeal of US sodomy laws? To show that the late Mychal Judge was just one of millions of Gay people whose presence in the Christian church has enriched it over many years? And that's not even the half of it, Mr. Burns! The lessons you'll learn about human gender will be nothing less than astounding.  This is a story so fascinating in nature and so all-encompassing in scope, it promises to take you and your viewers in myriad directions simultaneously.

Are you willing to tackle the project of a lifetime? LGBT folk have a remarkable history, and you've got the kind of seasoned storytelling skills that can bring it to life. Dude . . . let's do lunch!