Tales of the City on Netflix: Armistead Maupin on transgender inclusion, gay sex
“We’ve got some good butt-f***ing in the new one,” Armistead Maupin says with a childlike laugh.
The author, now 75, is referring to the revival of Tales of the City, the seminal LGBT+ television series based on his books of the same name. “Butt-f***ing,” jokes Maupin, is the last taboo for a franchise that has spanned nearly five decades and broken down every conceivable barrier in print and on screen with depictions of homosexuality, transgender issues, nudity and drug use.
“I don’t think that’s the aim of any of this [to shock people], it’s just to tell our stories, to move people,” Maupin quickly adds.
Tales of the City is arguably about to get its biggest platform to tell its stories yet: Maupin’s creation, first serialised in daily newspapers in 1970s San Francisco, then adapted into a series of novels and television miniseries, will premiere globally on streaming giant Netflix on June 7.
18 years after viewers last visited 28 Barbary Lane, Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis reprise their roles as protagonists Mary Ann Singleton and Anna Madrigal for the new series.
A lot has changed in the 18 years since the last miniseries, Further Tales of the City, aired in 2001. More still since the second miniseries, More Tales of the City, screened in 1998. And even further still since the very first miniseries, Tales of the City, riled up conservative America when it aired on PBS in 1994. The pitchfork furore (“a slick piece of gay propaganda,” said one right-wing activist) that followed the series’ envelope-pushing broadcast led to PBS dropping funding for the followups.
Now, most people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the sight of seeing two men kissing on-screen—especially if they have a Netflix subscription. The streamer is home to plenty of queer content, including Queer Eye and Orange is the New Black.
“I see it as a media adventure,” Maupin reflects, looking back at Tales of the City‘s 43-year history. “That’s been the ride for me—keeping that alive for all these years, watching it break down the resistance it’s been met with at almost every step of the game.
“In America, even in San Francisco, it was radical when it appeared in the daily newspaper, and there was a mention of LGBT people, never mind what they were doing—there was a moment when Michael [Tolliver] wakes up in bed with John but you had to kind of guess it was two men in a bed.”
“It’s always been slightly radical, slightly controversial,” says Maupin. “I can’t wait to see what Netflix has in store for us because they’ve made it so easy to tell the story the way we wanted to, because the culture’s arrived at that point.”
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