Words: Giulia Lombardo
For this LGBTQ+ History Month, what better way to play tribute to this amazing community by speaking of an miniseries that – in my opinion – is a true masterpiece: emotional, powerful, political, commemorative and truly striking in every sense of the word.
Television series that embrace the themes dear to the LGBTQ+ community, especially in recent years, are particularly prolific, but they are not new. Among the most popular series there is ‘Queer As Folks’, designed by Russell T. Davies: in 2015 he declares himself ready to face a new project, titled ‘The Boys About AIDS In The 1980s’. The series was rejected – probably for the topics covered, says Davies – and then commissioned again in 2018 by the same network that three years earlier had rejected it.
Thus ‘It’s A Sin’ was born: set in 1981, the HBO miniseries composed of five episodes follows friends Ritchie (Olly Alexander), Roscoe (Omari Douglas) and Colin (Callum Scott Howells), who at 18 leave their homes to move to London with joy, hope and many ambitions, but they will end up marching towards the scary disease that most of the world ignores. Year after year, episode after episode, their lives will be upset by the mysterious disease that becomes a real threat, forcing them to put their guard up and fight. The trio is joined by an aspiring actress named Jill Baxter, played by Lydia West; Neil Patrick Harris as Henry Coltrane, Keeley Hawes and Shaun Dooley as Valerie and Clive Tozer (Ritchie’s father and mother).
The crucial point in the boys’ lives is the choice to leave their families behind and acquire full freedom; the gay community in those years was in full turmoil, starting with the revolutionary movements of the late ’60s onwards. Not only because of the greater rights they were gaining, but also because of the birth of places where they could be themselves without feeling like hiding, without risking harassment or beatings.
The reality they find after leaving their homes and the family environment they used to be in are completely different: all three children come from a conservative family, with Ritchie’s family members, in addition to having a good dose of ingrained male chauvinism, would never accept his sexual orientation and Roscoe, a Nigerian drag queen, that ran away from home after his family wanted to take him back to Nigeria to “heal him”.
As far as the pilot, although it follows the most classic structure, that is to present the main characters and create the dynamics that bind them, the theme of AIDS is not just a shadow in the background, but it is strongly introduced. In those years the disinformation around the disease was a lot, especially because it was seen as an illness related to sexual orientation: in fact, one of the many nicknames was “gay influence”. To fuel an already rampant discrimination was the fear that the contagion could happen through contact, as you can take a simple flu symptom.
‘It’s A Sin’ is a revolutionary project because it talks about what people don’t want to listen see or acknowledge: people who suffer, truly. It was the creator himself, Russell T. Davies, who declared how difficult it was to produce such a show.
“It took a long time to get on television. We have changed many channels, it has been hard, many have rejected it two, or even three times. It’s a series about people dying, it’s hard. And I can’t guarantee that people will look at it, but it would be interesting to know” admitted Russell T. Davies.
Davies does his best to keep in the filming of the series the joyous atmosphere of the 1980s London, but always keeping strong and intact the message, by sensitively portraying the realities of the disease’s devastating progression. Because Davies made it clear: there is no need to sugarcode an issue that has claimed the lives of millions of people across the world – and the fictional telling is surely not going to shield us from the constant punching in the gut this series provides us with.
‘It’s A Sin’ serves as a perfect reminder of the not-so-distant-past that burdened thousands of people; it is a painful, heartbreaking love letter to all those lost during the AIDS epidemic, and to those who unconditionally supported them and to us, who still remember and look at the issue with all the respect it deserved and still deserves.