Mexican activist and filmmaker Leo Herrera had a simple guiding principle while working on his sci-fi web series The Fathers Project: “Imagine a world where AIDS never happened and our heroes lived. Who would they be? Who would we be?” Described as “Cruising meets Black Mirror meets Beyonce’s Lemonade,” Fathers released its fourth episode recently. With Malick-like riffs over dreamy imagery, Herrera’s project shines a light on the joy, ingenuity, and artistry that flourished in the 1980s, but dimmed in the wake of the AIDS crisis. The series focuses beyond the loss the gay community suffered during the crisis (that continues in marginalized communities today).
Every episode of Fathers opens with testimonies from gay men who lost partners, friends and lovers, and who dare to imagine what their life would be like had they not spent years fighting for their lives and their rights. Herrera then previews a fictional documentary series on “The Queer Colonies,” which explores the past, present and future of the various territories within the United States that are exclusively led by queer people. “The 1980s were a golden era for the gay population,” a British newscaster says in the first episode, as we see vibrant images of gleefully leather-clad men parading down the street. “It was a decade defined by a dominance in the arts, victories in politics, and groundbreaking developments in health care.”
In each episode, Herrera balances hopeful queer futurity with a grounded sense of history. Episode two (“Nightlife”) explores how the film’s Gay Men’s Health Force developed inhalant prophylactics (a.k.a poppers that protect you from STDs) and how they went mainstream. But in tying history and imagined fantasy, Herrera’s look at the circuit parties around the “Queer Colonies” also speak to current issues surrounding sexual health. AIDS may not exist in Fathers, but the debate over poppers seems similar to today’s conversation about PrEP and pharmaceutical companies’ decisions to rack up prices, rather than help communities at risk.
Serving as both requisite history viewing and brimming with a celebration of the resilience and joy of the gay community, Fathers is a web series unlike no other. Where else will you find a mock pharmaceutical commercial for poppers, endless shots of sweaty and scantily-clad men dancing to disco, factoids about famed gay bars that have gone under, and quotes from 1970s’ “The Gay Manifesto?”
Check out the fourth episode of Fathers below.