Do not be fooled by its glib title, “Gaycation” is no mere gay travelogue.
The new TV project from out star Ellen Page and her gay best friend Ian Daniel takes them on a journey to visit LGBT communities around the world. But to call it just a travel show would be a disservice to the intellectual and cultural curiosity that drives this fascinating new series.
“Gaycation” is one of the new TV shows coming out of Viceland, the recently launched 24-hour cable channel from the media company Vice. Many of the channel’s new shows role out on broadcast this week, and the “Gaycation” premiere episode is currently available to stream online.
What makes “Gaycation” such a fascinating docu-series is, indeed, the curiosity and openness which Page and Daniel approach their travels. If you’re looking for some kind of Rick Steves-like guide to point you to the “best” gay places to visit around the world, you’ve landed on the wrong show.
But if you want two young hosts who are earnestly exploring what it is like to be in the LGBT community, and how each society views LGBT people in different countries, settle in because you won’t be disappointed.
The series, which debuts tonight on Viceland, has shot four episodes in Japan, Brazil, Jamaica and — presumably — America with the possibility of more to come. (Viceland hasn’t really released much in the way of specifics — like how many or exactly when they’ll air. But footage emerged this summer of Page confronting GOP presidential contender Ted Cruz at the Iowa State Fair for the show.)
From what I’ve seen — which is the first three episodes — the new cable channel should be rightfully proud of its product. “Gaycation” combines a tourists’ enthusiasm with an activists’ heart. Besides just visiting gay clubs and dance parties, Page and Daniel take time to seek out the often-repressed pockets of gayness that live within any country. We are, after all, everywhere.
In Japan, that means delving into the “don’t rock the boat” culture that creates a world without much openness for LGBT people. While violent homophobia may not be as problematic in the country, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy about gay lives and gay existence makes progress painfully slow. We are also invited to sit as flies on the wall during a real coming out, as a young man tells his mother he is gay. It’s a quiet, awkward, deeply personal moment that for every gay person watching should feel intimately familiar.
Yet “Gaycation” also dares to travel to and even confront countries and people with much more vitriolic and violent views toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Episodes in Brazil, which has an alarming murder rate for its transgender community, and Jamaica, which has no laws on the books supporting LGBT rights of any kind. paint a stark, painful picture of life.
In one of the series’ most dramatic moments, Page and Daniel interview a former Brazilian police officer who boasts of killing LGBT people and openly expresses his hatred for all gay people. The journalist in me briefly wonders about vetting. But then another side of me feels the palpable shock and genuine fear Page must feel when she asks — to her off-camera production crew — if it would be safe for them to identify themselves as gay to the confessed killer as he stands before them.
Yet “Gaycation” also reserves enough time for the lighter, more joyous aspects of gay life. Dancing during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. A flash mob to celebrate the first gay pride event ever in Kingston, Jamaica. The simple wonder of being surrounded by a roomful of pretty girls in a lesbian bar in Tokyo.
Page and Daniels both are game hosts who do so much more than just smile and point. Page in particular allows her passion for LGBT rights and own experiences of coming out publicly to shine through. The self-professed “tiny Canadian” is not afraid to sit across from a virulently anti-gay politician or weep with the mother and boyfriend of a murdered gay man.
In “Gaycation” Page proves to be more than just a talented actress. She is a compassionate seeker on a quest to understand and appreciate the big gay world around her. In short, she is quite possibly the perfect traveling companion.
“Gaycation” premieres at 10 p.m. on Viceland Wednesday, March 2.
Page and Daniel, the co-creators of “Gaycation,” will give keynote addresses at SXSW on March 12. The festival runs in Austin, Texas, from March 11-19.