The actor talks to ET about producing the Apple TV+ docuseries about LGBTQ visibility on television.
While television in America has been around since the 1930s, it wasn’t until the ‘70s before the LGBTQ community started seeing positive portrayals of themselves onscreen. Now, 50 years later, Emmy-nominated filmmakers Ryan White and Jessica Hargrave and executive producers Wanda Sykes and Wilson Cruz have teamed up on the Apple TV+ docuseries Visible: Out on Television to examine the evolution of visibility on the small screen.
“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,” Cruz tells ET. “But, you know, that didn’t just happen. It happened because a lot of people risked a lot in order to tell those stories.”
Over the course of the five-part series, an expansive list of A-list stars and notable LGBTQ celebrities -- everyone from Billy Crystal to Tim Gunn -- candidly discuss how storytelling and portrayals have changed over time.
While chronicling 50-plus years of history may seem like a daunting challenge, Cruz says that after conducting all of the interviews -- over 90 in all -- themes started to emerge. “You start to see that people are pointing towards the same characters or television shows that affected them the most,” he explains.
Each hour-long episode, narrated by Janet Mock, Margaret Cho, Asia Kate Dillon, Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Waithe, explores various topics such as invisibility, homophobia, the evolution of the LGBTQ character, and coming out.
Visible starts in the ‘70s with shows like All in the Family before moving through the decades, touching on the many highs and lows of representation as America’s relationship with TV and LGBTQ rights continued to change. While all the major or recent milestones are there -- Pedro on The Real World, Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out, Laverne Cox’s Emmy nomination, Waithe’s Thanksgiving episode and many others -- the series is also packed full of less familiar or forgotten moments in history, like Perry Mason star Raymond Burr’s life in the closet or the impact of the groundbreaking series An American Family on PBS or Logo’s Noah's Arc.
“When I think of Ellen, Tim Gunn, Billy Crystal or Patrik-Ian Polk, who created Noah’s Ark -- all these people who were scared, who took really scary and frightening risks in their careers and in their livelihoods to tell these stories. I’m personally in awe of how willing people were to share so much of themselves,” Cruz says.
The other added benefit of the docuseries is that it also serves as a “herstory” lesson for younger generations of LGBTQ people who may be less familiar with the history of representation onscreen. “I don't know that a lot of young people really know what it took to get us to this moment,” Cruz says. “And that's no fault of their own, but they need to be informed that LGBTQ people weren't always as ubiquitous on television as they are today.”
So, while the docuseries represents a lot of things to a lot of people -- an oral history, a much-needed history, etc. -- it’s something more specific for the former My So-Called Life actor. “It’s a love letter to all the people -- LGBTQ and allies -- who really risked everything in order to tell these stories,” Cruz says.
Visible: Out on Television is now streaming on Apple TV+.