There have been many documentaries about the gay liberation movement, equal rights and same-sex liberties for the queer community and the underrepresented and often obscured plight of transgender individuals, many of them tied to the decades-long AIDS crisis. But there has never been a doc that encapsulates all of them at once that also manages to be uplifting and non-foreboding as well — until “Pride.”
FX’s six-episode nonfiction series “Pride” covers these issues and much more. Beginning with the 1950s through current day, it often eschews a standard talking-heads approach (all well worth hearing) to narrow down its narrative, sometimes even framing people in side-view versus head-on, to create an extra sense of vulnerability.
“Everybody had the desire and the goal to give voice to people who hadn’t normally been spotlighted in these films,” says editor Rosella Tursi, who worked on the back three episodes, which cover the ’80s to 2020s. “The ’80s episode, for example, easily could have been dominated by gay men because of the rise of the AIDS epidemic. But instead, we had some phenomenal character arcs. There are even two women spotlighted in that episode because it really tells the story of different activists.”
That particular episode was Tursi’s first foray into working on the series. Subjects featured include Village Voice writer Michael Musto, a pre-“Drag Race” RuPaul, and videographer/activist Nelson Sullivan, who chronicled his day-to-day sojourns as a bittersweet ode to the ever-changing Big Apple and who is often dubbed the inventor of the modern selfie via his technique of frequently reversing the camera onto himself. “For the ’80s episode alone, we had a tremendous amount of footage. Nelson shot over 1,200 hours of footage from 1983 to 1989, so, for the whole series, it’s thousands of hours we went through.”
And even while working diligently on what Tursi calls her dream job, it takes a certain mental toll. “It comes with the territory of being a storyteller, but yeah, there were many times that I got emotional and cried [at work],” she says. “People like [Black trans activist] Ceyenne Doroshow, who appeared three times in the series and kind of became the heartbeat of it, to go from surviving the streets of NYC to becoming an executive director of an organization that helps so many people. It was incredibly fulfilling — and even educational for me even having known much of it — being immersed in all of this material going back decades.”
Tursi was thrilled to work on a project shepherded by legendary indie producer of “Poison” and “Go Fish,” Christine Vachon, known for lifting the voices of LGBTQ+ filmmakers in their salad days. “She is an idol of mine because of her work in new queer cinema and her book ‘Shooting to Kill’ — I love the 1980s. And then I met [‘80s segment] directors Alex Smith and Anthony Caronna at a restaurant and it ended up being the longest, most fun job interview I ever had. And one thing led to another, and I just kept working on it.”
Not only prescient as time capsule, “Pride” rides the edge of modern-day movements as well. Subjects such as Margaret Cho expound on how gay culture has radically shifted in the new millennium, giving way to newer, necessary groups such as Black Trans Lives Matter, seen in footage in the documentary shot as recently as last summer in Brooklyn.
“It’s the reason we chose to end the entire series giving voice to the Black trans community,” Tursi says. She notes the important presence of trans and non-binary directors such as Yance Ford and Ro Haber — who worked on the series — “because that’s where the movement needs to focus this energy now. It was like-minded people working together with the same goal of really giving voice to people who hadn’t previously had a big platform.”
And “Pride,” as is the case with many of its viewers, literally hits home in more ways than one. “My wife and I were kept apart by the Defense of Marriage Act for many years. To be looking through all this material and all these archives in our apartment together now that we are married, it made us just feel so much gratitude for the people that came before us that fought these very hard battles that got us to where we are now. It’s made me so much more active and engaged.”