If you've watched films documenting the LGBTQ+ rights movement in America pre-Stonewall, you probably walked away from those films questioning if Black LGBTQ+ people contributed to the movement or existed at all. We did and we do. "Equal," a new four-part documentary currently streaming on HBO Max is hoping to shed light on the trailblazing Black LGBTQ+ icons who played a critical role in shaping the modern gay rights movement.
Narrated by Emmy and Tony Award-winner Billy Porter, "Equal" also features Emmy Award winner Samira Wiley (The Handmaid's Tale, Orange Is The New Black) as queer playwright Lorraine Hansberry and Keiynan Lonsdale (Love, Simon) as gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin.
Rustin was a confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. and a key organizer of the famed 1963 March on Washington. A decade before that historic moment, Rustin was arrested and sentenced to 60 days in jail after being caught having sex with two men in a parked car in Los Angeles. That sentence remained on the activist’s record until his death in 1987. Earlier this year, however, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) granted Rustin a posthumous pardon.
Lonsdale’s performance is just one of many starry moments in “Equal,” which features narration by Emmy-winning “Pose” actor Billy Porter. Wiley, similarly, makes for an impressive Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote “A Raisin in the Sun."
“It was really interesting for me as somebody who knows a lot about LGBTQ history ... there’s a lot of stuff in the four-part series I had not heard about before,” said Porter. “I think there’s a lot of information at the fingertips post-Stonewall, [but] there’s not a whole lot of talk about what came before Stonewall. ... It’s about people taking charge of their lives and rising up and making sure that we live up to what our Constitution boasts, which is that all men are created equal.”
Watch Lonsdale in a teaser for the series below. You can also watch Porter and Wiley talk in-depth about the series here.