‘The Book of Queer’: Alex Newell & EP on Comedy Docuseries’ Historical Importance
For so many queer people, seeing themselves reflected in history books would have been life-affirming and saved them years of pain as children. The Book of Queer is here to deliver that affirmation. The Discovery+ comedic documentary series retells history through the LGBTQIA+ lens it always should have had, showing all who watch that we have always been here, and we’re not going away — loud homophobes be damned.
With shows like this, kids nowadays are far from a loss of content teaching them the beauty of LGBTQIA+ history. Each of the five episodes focuses on different historical figures, as told by queer historians, actors, singers, and performers, with Dominique Jackson, Leslie Jordan, Alex Newell, Margaret Cho, and Ross Mathews narrating the installations.
Speaking with TV Insider at Discovery+’s CELEBRATE PRIDE event during the Tribeca Film Festival on June 9, Newell and Book of Queer executive producer, Pulitzer Prize finalist Dr. Eric Cervini, shared why this series is so important not just for queer people of all ages, but for those who have been privileged enough to not have to worry about the queer civil rights movements of past and present.
“Right now, we can tell these stories. And specifically what we’re doing in Book of Queer, we don’t get to learn these stories in school. We don’t get to know that these people were queer or fluid or non-binary,” Newell says. “I think we would have been so much further had we had this material in our textbooks.”
“As you know, we have 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country in 36 states, and I think the number one thing that queer history teaches us is how to fight back,” says Cervini.
“We’ve been through this before. We’ve been through the exact same rhetoric, the exact same strategies, the political scapegoating,” Cervini continues. “Now, it’s [Ron] DeSantis, before that it was Anita Bryant, and we beat her. We came together, we survived, and we thrived. We can learn from that, come together once again, protect the most marginalized parts of our community, and keep fighting.”
Some of the historical figures discussed in The Book of Queer are former presidents and first ladies, trans Indian warriors, gay Roman emperors, and more. Newell and Cervini have their favorites from the series.
“Our very first episode includes the story and the life of Bayard Rustin, chief architect of the 1963 March on Washington,” Cervini says. “He was an openly gay Black man, who not only taught Dr. King the tenets of non-violence, but also taught the very new, burgeoning gay rights movement at the time called the Homophile Movement the same principles.”
“It used the same strategies that Dr. King, Rustin, the NAACP, all of the Black freedom movement was using and transferred it to our movement,” Cervini says, adding “hopefully everyone feels indebted to Rustin and his legacy” after watching the episode.
Newell’s favorite? Eleanor Roosevelt, whom the actor had “no idea” was queer. “That the letters are just sitting in FDR’s library from her and her lover, that is stunning. I’m watching First Lady on Showtime and it’s all coming together as well, so I’m just flabbergasted, gobsmacked.”
The Book of Queer features an all-queer ensemble of performers and scholars, including Drag Race stars Miss Vanjie, GOTTMIK, and Kim Chi, plus TikTok stars Chris Olsen, Tell Williams, and Rob Anderson. Each episode is capped off with original songs performed by queer musicians like Betty Who and VINCINT.
Prof. Susan Stryker, Prof. Lillian Faderman, Prof. Jenn Jackson, Blair Imani, Prof. Michael Young, Prof. Stephanie Larson, Kevin Quin, Miriam Kamil, LZ Granderson, Prof. Mar Hicks, Prof. Kara Cooney, Souksavanh Keovorabouth, Dr. Christine Axen, Prof. Thomas Balcerski, Prof. Gary Ferguson, and Prof. David Green serve as the series’ historians.
The Book of Queer, New Episodes, Thursdays, Discovery+