Every year when June rolls around, my friends and I gear up for our favorite event; knee-high socks, pigmented eye shadow, and glitter that stays in our hair for days. The annual pride parade has been the source of many memories and sunburns for myself. I’ve seen many acts of love and acceptance displayed at pride events that have moved me deeply and made me feel a part of the community.
Unfortunately, this year due to COVID-19, pride parades are halted for the safety of the community. While the act of physically being with community members is empowering, it is important to note that pride goes beyond the parade and festivities we know and love. It is a lifestyle of constantly and consistently uplifting those in the LGBTQ+ community. Even for those of us who are a part of the community, we need to use our platform and privilege to help those who are struggling with their identity; one way to do so is to consume LGBTQ+ focused stories. Thankfully, the representation of queer fold is beginning to expand in movies, television, and media. So in order to celebrate the end of this historic month, here are some films that I consider essential viewing.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
This documentary recently gained attention on social media because of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Most importantly, it has brought needed awareness to the fact that LGBTQ+ rights would not have been possible without many BIPOC pioneers. Marsha P. Johnson was a black, transgender woman who founded S.T.A.R. and is most known for being a leader of the Stonewall uprising. The film is a starting point for learning the connection between Stonewall and Pride festivals across the country. In addition, it reveals the dirty secret that the violence perpetrated against LGBTQ+ BIPOC is an epidemic.
However, honoring Johnson’s life, it does delve into the mystery of her death instead of the entire work. In addition, the director David France did come under fire for allegedly plagiarizing the film Happy Birthday, Marsha!, a short film directed by Tourmaline. While France has denied this claim, I think both films should be added to everyone’s watchlist.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
This 2019 French period piece, directed by Céline Sciamma, gained global recognition this past award season. The film was nominated for several Dorian Awards, a GLAAD Media Award, and was the recipient of the Queer Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival. In the film, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), is commissioned to paint Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). The painting will then be sent a nobleman in Milan in the hopes he will marry her. Héloïse refuses to pose for a portrait as she does not want to be married. Marianne acts as her companion, and in secretly studies her features so she can then return to her room and paint the portrait.
While there are no male characters, the viewer stills feels the patriarchy looming over the women. However, Sciamma avoids using the male gaze and does not give attention to the obvious taboos of the time. She demonstrates that despite the patriarchy, love between women can be powerful and transcendent of time and norms.
You may have heard the name of this film after the infamous 2017 Oscar Ceremony mix-up with La La Land. However, there is more to this film than just that iconic moment. Directed by Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy, If Beale Street Could Talk), this coming of age film is based on an unpublished semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarrell Alvin McCraney. Split into three chapters, the film examines different points in the protagonist’s life. This is important to the storytelling of the film because it does not pin him to a specific moment in time. This allows the viewer to see how the environment around him ultimately shaped him as a man. Moonlight ultimately explores the difficult intersection of being masculine and black.
Dolor y Gloria or Pain and Glory
Directed and written by Pedro Almodóvar, this 2019 Spanish film did not receive nearly enough attention as it should have. The film works with a series of flashbacks, creating a story that feels episodic. Salvador Mallo is a director dealing with depression after the loss of his mother and years of experiencing chronic pain. As he reflects on his life, we watch the reconciliation between two men and ask ourselves questions about mortality.
Moving on we have another Queer Palm Award Recipient! Directed by Todd Haynes, the film was famously snubbed at the 2016 Academy Awards. The story follows two women in 1950s New York. Therese Belivet is working in a department store when she meets Carol. Carol is an older woman trapped in a loveless marriage. They then develop an intimate bond, while Carol’s mothering ability is called into question because of her sexual orientation. Some queer films accidentally advocate for the end of the relationship because of the taboo that surrounds it; let it be said Carol is not that film.
Not many smartphones are the go-to camera for films. However, this 2015 film directed by Sean Baker used several iPhone 5S smartphones as the camera of choice. It is a comedy that follows the story of a transgender sex worker. Sin-Dee Rella leaves prison after a twenty-eight stint and finds out her boyfriend cheated on her with a cis-gender woman. It is smart, funny, and doesn’t pity or judge its’ characters. Baker smoothly embeds moments of sadness and humor in a way that isn’t jarring to the audience.
Directed by Olivia Wilde, this coming of age comedy follows Amy and Molly, soon to be high school graduates. The pair realize that though they were studious, they missed out on essential high school experiences; so, they decide to break the rules and spend the last night of their high school career going to a party.
The film touches on many subjects such as friendship and self-identity. We meet Amy two years after she has come out. While coming out stories are important and inspiring, Wilde shines a light on the next stage; a queer person simply living. Sometimes film doesn’t understand the awkward feeling of what to do ‘after’. Amy has not kissed a girl is her shy personality holds her back from talking to her crush, Ryan. It is refreshing to see a lesbian young woman, simply be. Her sexuality is not a punchline. Also, she is not sexualized for being lesbian (we see you Blue is the Warmest Color). Amy’s journey reminds us that we should find pride in our journey of sexuality every step of the way.