A man remembers losing so many friends to AIDS that he couldn’t recall everyone who’d passed. Other men and women share how the world would be different without AIDS—the arts would have progressed further, homelessness would be less common, equal rights would have been won sooner.
These poignant voiceovers are juxtaposed with surreal imagery—men in vibrant, colorful makeup wearing nun regalia, complete with oversized, bejeweled crosses—as well as archival footage of AIDS activist group ACT UP and AIDS patients suffering in their hospital beds. These are the powerful opening moments of The FATHERS Project, a new web series that reimagines America as a gay utopia in which AIDS never existed.
Helmed by Leo Herrera, a Mexican filmmaker known for tackling queer politics and HIV stigma, the series combines elements of surrealism with historical fact to offer commentary on today’s political climate. The first episode, “The Secret Country,” fast forwards to 2020 to explore The Queer Colonies.
The story begins with a quote from activist Carl Wittman: “To be a free territory, we must govern ourselves, set up our own institutions, defend ourselves, and use our own energies to improve ourselves.” The excerpt comes from “A Gay Manifesto,” Wittman’s explosive 1970 declaration which encouraged the LGBTQ community to fight for its rights.
We learn that the Colonies first materialized as Stonewall Nation in the 1980s, with Stonewall cities popping up all over the country. The name, Stonewall Nation, is pulled from a real group of queer separatists who once attempted to establish their own city in 1970. These Stonewall cities are the closest thing America has to utopia, with the lowest rates of disease and homelessness on record.
They’ve continued to thrive for decades, and have grown so strong that they’re ready to back the first openly gay presidential candidate in U.S. history—Vito Russo. In reality, Russo was an activist, author, and film historian who succumbed to AIDS in 1990. But here, he lives a full life as the most prominent face of The Queer Colonies.
The story is told in the style of an investigative report, opting for more exposition in lieu of a character-driven narrative. But even without the connection to a protagonist or villain, the episode packs a punch.
FATHERS is consistent with themes we’ve seen in film and TV throughout 2018. February’s Black Panther primarily took place in Wakanda, a secret African nation that hid its talent and wealth in order to thrive.
The Queer Colonies serve as a jubilant flipside to the dystopian torture of The Handmaid’s Tale’s Gilead, a sovereign nation in which women have no control over their bodies or lives. In Gilead, anyone whose mere existence threatens God’s plans for fertility (i.e. gay men) is killed or forced to flee. But here, we not only get to keep living, but we get equality, and we prove that we can run a more positive, productive, and fruitful society.
This series builds upon our historically painful past through a vision of the future, as opposed to FX’s Pose, which is equally effective but tells its triumphant story by revisiting the AIDS era through the eyes of its embattled characters. Though it’s on a smaller scale, FATHERS is a more piercing and direct political statement.
The Queer Colonies are the gay utopia we’ve always dreamed of.
Some people may interpret this episode, and subsequently the entire series, as separatist propaganda. But this is a narrow view. There are elements of separatism woven into FATHERS, but this is primarily to honor the legacy of activists who didn’t live to see our progress today. And it also serves as a device to remind us all of our power, and the many ways that power can be harvested to better society.
To learn more about FATHERS, watch the debut episode, and help fund the season, visit iftheylived.org.