We are coming to the end of 2017. It has been a bad year. Although the shitshow in the White House gives us daily doses of depression, we as humans carry on, looking for glimmers of light, beauty, and art. Thankfully, Trump, legislative Republicans and Putin have not yet totally unfunded our Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Therefore, on January 1, 2018, a portion of our collective burdened brain can push the cancel/clear button by watching and supporting the premiere of The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, directed by Jennifer M. Kroot and Bill Weber. The biographical documentary—winner of an Audience Award at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival—will air 10:30 p.m. ET on PBS’s superb Independent Lens program, and will be available for online viewing beginning January 2.
As a writer, Armistead Maupin admits he “looted his own life for his fiction.” These so-called lootings serve as prescient harbingers and examinations of cultural progress made since the 1970s when Maupin the writer came into prominence, as well as the threat that could reverse our strides forward.
The film (and his most recent book Logical Family: A Memoir, published in October 2017) surveys Maupin from his beginnings in Charleston, North Carolina, as a descendent of the conservative old South (his great-great grandfather was a Confederate general; his father perpetuated racism and homophobia), his naval service that included tours in Vietnam, and his career as a reporter that landed him in San Francisco where the “bathhouse scene finally shattered his identity.”
San Francisco is the setting of Tales of the City, a serialized fictional, yet semi-autobiographical account of the welcoming metropolis that was an epicenter of LGBTQ lifestyles and community. The stories first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle as installments, later published as novels.
The popular literary works were first adapted for TV in 1994 for PBS, with later miniseries—More Tales of the City in 1998 and Further Tales of the City in 2001—produced for Showtime. A Netflix modern-day Tales rendition is in development, with Maupin as executive producer. Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis will both return to the roles they originated. This Tales of the City sequel series is a real financial blessing for the 73-year-old, who, with his husband Christopher Turner, has struggled to afford his San Francisco ground-floor apartment in his beloved Castro neighborhood where the cost of living is skyrocketing unsustainably by the ongoing tech invasion. His book sales, though steady, have dwindled since first being published.
As if the threat of displacement by gentrification isn’t enough of an indignity for an illustrious literary figure in his senior years, this year Maupin was compelled to “divorce” his conservative Charleston family. He decided on the separation after seeing his brother Tony’s Facebook support of Trump and pride of the Confederate flag.
“…you want no part of it any more,” Maupin explained to The Guardian’s Paul Laity back in October. “Life is too short to pretend the poison isn’t there. Their religion and their politics automatically make me, as a gay man, a second-class citizen. So fuck it.”
In consideration of the overall societal setbacks being propelled by the current administration that are adversely affecting everyone except the 1% and right-wing evangelicals, the The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin is, as described by Independent Lens Executive Producer Lois Vossen, “a crash course in the evolution of left-right culture clash that continues to this day.” Whether a crash course or a refresher course, The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin is highly recommended viewing.