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Everything you need to know about Wilson Cruz's new film, 'Playing Gay'

Of the many legacies My So-Called Life‘s brief 1994–1995 run left behind, Rickie Vasquez is among the most important. Played by Wilson Cruz, Rickie came out as gay to his friends during the high school–set series. While he faced many obstacles, including physical abuse and homelessness, his sexuality was more than a plot device. Two decades later, Cruz, who is both an activist and an actor, is determined to keep that legacy alive with his new Kickstarter-funded documentary, Playing Gay: How America Came Out on Television.

Playing Gay aims to tell the story of how far LGBT portrayals on television have come over the years, and the impact that has had on the nation’s attitudes toward the LGBT community—and, more recently, marriage equality. Michael Douglas, Norman Lear, Martin Sheen, Hal Holbrook, Sheila Kuehl, Wilson Cruz, and Dannielle Owens-Reid have already been interviewed for the film; pending the success of their Kickstarter fundraising, the creative team has many more stars in mind.

In addition to Cruz, who is an executive producer, the film is written and directed by David Bender, who also has a unique background in both activism and television. He was a founder of the Human Rights Campaign in the ’80s, and ran Roseanne Barr’s production company. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Roseanne is also among the early TV shows famous for breaking new ground in terms of LGBT characters and storylines.) The producing team behind Playing Gay also includes environmental activist Wendy Abrams and film producer David Permut.

DVD screengrab

In the teaser video on the film’s Kickstarter page, Cruz speaks about his audition for My So-Called Life. He was 20 years old at the time, and had come out to his own family a year earlier. He had no idea how the audition had gone, but as he left the room, he felt the need to express to the show’s creative team how much the mere existence of the role of Rickie meant to him.

“I want you to know how important this part would have been on TV if I had been able to see it when I was 15,” he said. Cruz cannot even recount the experience without becoming emotional. While Rickie may not have been around when Cruz most needed him, thanks to his portrayal, he was there for so many young people struggling with their own sexual identities during the show’s short yet impactful run.

In 1997, 42 million viewers watched Ellen come out on her sitcom. As Cruz points out in the video, what has always made television special is that it requires audiences to invite shows and characters into their home. When you think about it this way, the increased presence of LGBT characters and stories on television is huge in that it has exposed people to these ideas more and more. At the time of My So-Called Life, Ellen, Roseanne, and The Real World, healthy, realistic portrayals of LGBT characters on television could essentially be counted on one hand. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Queer as Folk, and Six Feet Under took further strides in the early 2000s, and Nip/Tuck, The L Word, and Grey’s Anatomy were leaders in the push toward more LGBT characters on television in the latter part of the decade.


Now, it is almost more difficult to name a television series without an LGBT character. Glee, Teen Wolf, Orphan Black, The New Normal, The Fosters, Orange Is the New Black, Looking, The 100, UnREAL, Transparent, and so many more have continued to change the television landscape, introducing more and more well-rounded, complex LGBT characters to viewers everywhere. But, as the team behind Playing Gay points out, progress in this area is far from over. Their hope for this documentary is to tell the real, behind-the-scenes history of LGBT characters and storylines on television, so people can understand and appreciate how far things have come as they work to continue moving forward.

This documentary was brought to my attention during a rewatch of My So-Called Life for my nostalgia recap series. Watching the show now, in 2015, has really opened my eyes to just how groundbreaking Rickie Vasquez and, honestly, the show as a whole was at the time. Nowadays, a character like Rickie, who wears eyeliner and hangs out in the girls’ bathroom, would hardly warrant a second glance. But he was such an important first step—particularly in the genre of high school shows—toward the place we are now, both on television and as a nation. I have always been a huge believer in TV’s ability to have a true impact on people’s lives, and this documentary is in a unique position to tell exactly that story. The passion of the Playing Gay team is quite evident, and I am looking forward to seeing the project come to fruition and continue the ongoing dialogue between television and society.


If you would like to support Playing Gay, their Kickstarter campaign will be open for donations through Monday, August 17. It has already raised over $50,000 toward a goal of $137,500. Many exciting rewards are available for donors, including video-on-demand previews of the film, digital downloads, apparel and memorabilia, and, if you are feeling very generous, opportunities to attend a live taping or a dinner with the creative team. To donate and learn more about the project, click here.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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