Finding LGBTQ actors to cast in the new history docuseries “The Book of Queer” wasn’t that difficult.
No, producers didn’t ask the actors about their sexuality.
“If you’re casting for a show called ‘Book of Queer,’ and you’re saying in the audition process, ‘Is there any particular reason you want to be on this show?,’ they’re going to tell us,” series creator Eric Cervini tells me. “Of course, we weren’t discriminating, but it was kind of self-selecting.’”
The five-episode “Book of Queer,” which premieres Thursday on Discovery+, features multiple stories about queer history and queer individuals, including Greek poet Sappho, Alexander the Great, King James, Joan of Arc, Akhenaten, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Alan Turning, Josephine Baker, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gilbert Baker, Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Ma Rainey and Bayard Rustin.
The list of guest stars includes Dominique Jackson, Alex Newell, Leslie Jordan, Ross Mathews, Miss Vanjie, Gottmik and Variety Power of Pride honoree Chris Olsen.
The episodes are not boring history lessons. Instead, the stories are told through song, comedy and lots of camp. Where else will you see a singing and dancing Abraham Lincoln in red, white and blue boxer briefs or an off-the-shoulder sweater dress?
Yes, the show presents evidence that Honest Abe may have enjoyed the company of men.
The series was inspired by Cervini’s own Instagram video posts that offer short, narrated LGBTQ history lessons that are digestible and accessible. “People were learning things that I think they were surprised that they didn’t know, like maybe Lincoln was queer or the story of Sappho and where the word ‘lesbian’ comes from,” Cervini says. He and his partners at B17 Entertainment sold the series adaptation to Discovery+. “I said, ‘Let’s turn this into a queer history extravaganza,'” Cervini recalls.
Cervini also happens to be a Harvard educated historian. As I first reported earlier this week, Cervini’s New York Times bestseller, “The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America,” about U.S. Department of Defense astronomer and gay rights activist Frank Kameny, is being adapted by Tony-winning playwright Matthew López (“The Inheritance”) as a limited series for Amazon with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment producing.
Cervini and fellow historians also appear in “Book of Queer.”
“When we were shopping around the show, the biggest concern for all these networks and production companies was if there were enough stories. ‘Is there enough queer history to tell?’” Cervini says, laughing. “I was, ‘You’re joking, right?’ There are literally iPhone apps where every day of the of the year, it gives you four or five tidbits of queer history and stories. There are a whole university programs about queer history. Once we made that clear, we put together a giant list of hundreds of these stories. The hardest part of this entire process was choosing which ones to include.”