Directed by Stu Maddux
It’s hard to comprehend that we existed before the AIDS crisis, because before the AIDS crisis, queer people were mostly not out. We couldn’t be. It was too dangerous for us. We would lose our jobs, homes, families, places in society, freedom, even sometimes our very lives if we were out and proud and waving our queer flags high for the world to see that we were members of that hated tribe. So, we mostly only know about queer history when queer history in the public eye really got going and that was when AIDS took over the world in the 1980s.
But we did exist before AIDS forced us out of the closet and into the streets to march for our very lives.
We DID exist.
I swear, we really did actually exist.
But so few people know that we existed before AIDS or even the Stonewall Riots in 1969 because there is so little history taught to us about us, if it is even taught at all. And that is why a film like Reel In The Closet is vital viewing for anyone in the LGBTQ community, or even those who aren’t, because this documentary not only proves that we existed in history long before history recognized us as a fact, but we even sometimes loved, laughed and lived happy lives with lifelong partners despite the world-at-large hating us. How fucking awesome is that?!
Reel In The Closet is one of the most beautiful and touching documentaries I have ever watched and that is simply because I got to watch us. I got to watch our people in a time not that long ago, but a time that nearly forgot we existed then too, and not only did we exist, but we were just like everyone else, because what Reel In The Closet shows us is that we are/were just people too. That’s all, just regular, everyday people, just trying to live our regular, everyday lives, except we just wanted to live them with someone of the same sex. It was always just as simple as that.
Reel In The Closet is basically just home movies that were shot by LGBTQ people about LGBTQ people from the 1930s through about the 1980s. The footage is everything from parties in people’s homes, to dressing up in women’s clothing and just being silly, to dancing with our same sex partners, to going to a lesbian jazz bar in the 1950s (and could the smart people of the world build a time machine already, because I really wanna go back in time to that bar). But the footage also shows that we were fighters too and took to the streets for our rights and for our equality and sometimes for our very lives. We were also iconic figures in these home movies, like Harvey Milk and Marsha P. Johnson.
And watching all of this very personal film footage of us just being us from not that long ago, I realized that these were the movies I was yearning for and desperately searching for when I was a teenager in the 1980s and early 90s and so confused and lost and lonely about who I was – a lesbian. Instead of turning on The Facts of Life to catch Jo being very lesbian (even though we were all supposed to buy her just being a tomboy and don’t you think it’s time that Jo came out of the closet already) or watching movies based on Tennessee Williams plays (which were always so confusing when it came to me understanding who I was since all of Williams’ very gay characters got pretty much neutered by Hollywood), the best damn thing for teenage-me would have been to forget finding lesbian-me from what Hollywood had to offer and instead watching these old home movies made by queers, about queers, just living their normal, queer lives. I’ve watched Reel In The Closet several times now, and I get teary-eyed every time I watch it, because there are my people on my TV screen. After all of these years of searching and searching for them, FINALLY, there they are. And they were normal. And they were happy. And they did have love with a lifelong partner. And I can’t help but want to cheer every time I watch this magical documentary – “We did live! We did laugh! We did exist!”
Hollywood keeps endlessly churning out one damn superhero movie or TV series after another, but it’s the archivists (that we get to meet in Reel In The Closet) who are saving these home movies of our people that are the REAL superheroes, because they are saving OUR history. And they are making the REAL superhero movies, because they are saving the movies that show our people fighting for our lives and our freedom. Reel in the Closet shows us the footage these superhero archivists have preserved of us from everything to taking our fight to the streets during the AIDS crisis, to protesting when Harvey Milk’s murderer got such a light sentence, to even the pre-Stonewall protesters going out there when no one else was and making our voices be heard. And all of this has been saved by archivists so that we can turn on these home movies and simply watch us.
So, I just wanted to thank Stu Maddox, the director of Reel In The Closet, and Joseph Applebaum, one of the producers, for making this historical movie about our history that has been so desperately needed for such a long time. I got to thank them in person when I met them at the Pride of the Ocean film festival (the best damn film festival out there), but I wanted to thank them again, and all the archivists and savers of LGBTQ history that I met at the festival – Bud Thomas, HB Lozito, Susan Stryker, Terry Beswick, Emery Grant, Christopher Rudisill, and anyone else I forgot – ALL OF YOU ROCK! Thank you so much for saving our history. I don’t care who Hollywood says are superheroes, archivists of LGBTQ history are the REAL superheroes. Hey Hollywood, where’s their movie or TV series? I’m pretty much done with superhero movies or series because there’s only so much saving of the world while wearing tight pants and a cape that even I can take, but I sure would watch a movie or series about those superhero LGBTQ archivists. I bet they would have some pretty awesome and creative capes and tights. 🙂 😉
For more information on Reel In The Closet, check out their website. And queer kids of today and the future will know we existed, because Reel in The Closet is available for schools to purchase. Kick and ass! I may not have had these movies to help me through my rough teen years when I was growing up, but at least future generations will and that to me is a happy ending. 🙂
For more information on LGBTQ history check out –
Stonewall National Museum and Archives
GLBT Historical Society
ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, which has the largest collection of LGBTQ materials in the world.