June 17, 2022
WRITTEN BY: JOSEPH
As we come to the halfway point of Pride Month, I feel it’s important to shine a light on some spectacular queer films and series. Sadly, due to the likes of the Hays Code and the Legion of Decency (perfect supervillain group name, btw), many minorities, including queer people, were unable to be depicted on screen in the early to mid-20th century, so the entries on this list are relatively recent. That being said, these titles barely scratch the surface of queer media, and I implore you to seek out the beautiful work being done on a daily basis by the queer community.
As for the list, while some titles may be more about the subtext, others are more direct and explicit. I did my best to include the underseen gems and less traditional options that often get overshadowed by more mainstream fare. That’s why you won’t see the likes of Moonlight and Schitt’s Creek below. Nevertheless, I feel there is something on this list for everyone, and I hope you walk away from this article with at least one new entry for your Watch Queue. But, more importantly, I hope you come to understand that the LGBTQ+ community is not a monolith. It’s a wide spectrum, and queer representation on screen should be depicted as such. Hopefully, as society begins to embrace alternate lifestyles more and more, so will Hollywood.
I wish you all a Happy Pride Month, and may you all live your truest, fullest lives!
While I haven’t seen the classic Before trilogy starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Weekend has aptly been regarded by many as its queer contemporary. Following a one-night stand, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) begin to form a bond over the course of Glen’s last weekend before he leaves the country. The film asks its viewers the question “can you fall in love in just three days?” As they spend more time together, you find it increasingly believable that the answer is “yes.” It’s arguably the best gay romance ever made, and one that has not been granted the same level of praise as similar films such as Call Me by Your Name.
BOYS DON'T CRY (1999)
There has been plenty of debate regarding cisgendered actors portraying trans characters in recent years, but it’s hard to deny that Hilary Swank gives an amazing performance as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. The film follows Teena’s last days as he experiences romance and friendship in the lead up to a tragically violent death. The true story is heartbreaking, and the film does a great job of capturing that pain. Along with that, it goes the extra mile to show Teena’s process in transitioning from pre-op transgendered male to present masculine. The film was originally rated NC-17 in the United States, and it certainly came with a fair share of controversies, including concerns about historical accuracy; however, it’s an undeniably powerful film that, while not a happy watch, definitely leaves an impression.
It’s hard to think of a film that was as fully overlooked at awards time as Cowboys. This quaint character piece of a man trying to support his young, transgendered son is heart wrenching. Steve Zahn gives the performance of his career, playing to his strengths and showcasing a talent that had been previously unseen for the most part. It’s an emotional coming of age film that deserves your attention.
MYSTERIOUS SKIN (2004)
Filmmaker Gregg Araki has become more appreciated as the years have gone by, but I don’t think it’s controversial to say Mysterious Skin is his best work as a director. The film is an adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel of the same name, which follows two young men in a small town - one is a hustler (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the other (Brady Corbet) believes he was abducted by aliens. The film is a sickening yet beautiful portrayal of how trauma manifests itself. Araki does a spectacular job at directing certain scenes in a way that evokes the appropriate feelings of disgust while also capturing a sense of whimsy. It’s one of my favorite films, and while it’s not for everyone, it is a must-watch.
EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE (2021)
In terms of Pride, good luck finding a film that’s more loud and proud than Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Based on the hit stage production of the same name, this musical follows a high schooler’s (Max Harwood) journey to becoming a drag queen. The music is an absolute blast and the film itself is visually stunning. There are a multitude of traditional high school themes and tropes, but they're all done full justice in the telling of this unique story. It’s a great example of how to properly adapt a musical and bring the energy of the stage to the screen. Good luck watching this without smiling the whole way through.
GOOD MANNERS (2017)
You’ve probably never heard of this Brazilian film, but Good Manners should be on the top of any queer horror film list. It’s filled with so much heart and tenderness that it’s absolutely adorable at times. Yes, a tender and adorable horror movie, but it’s hard to describe it without those words. Go into it blind, expect some sad moments and some deaths, but mostly, be prepared for a unique film experience and a creature feature like no other.
Another international film that should top queer horror lists is Knife+Heart. This film isn’t for the faint-hearted, as it follows a gay porn studio whose stars are being killed off one by one. Done in Giallo-style, Knife+Heart is a colorful treat that is more cerebral than scary, yet it nevertheless delivers. Sure, it’s explicit with its violence and sexuality, but with a premise like that, what else would you expect?
G.B.F. is a fantastic teen comedy that had a small cult following around its release that has since dwindled somewhat. Standing for “Gay Best Friend,” the movie follows a freshly outed teen (Michael J. Willett) who is being sought after by various popular girls who feel that having a gay best friend is necessary to their popularity. There are a lot of moving parts, but it touches on friendships and self-acceptance while making you laugh the whole way through. Along with that, it shows why Pride is so necessary to make a statement and that queer identities are not there to just help people get social points or virtue signal.
In early 2022, Pixar employees claimed that Disney and Pixar had cut out nearly all gay affection and explicit representation in their films, which highlighted that corporate meddling had derailed the storytellers’ attempts to be inclusive. When hearing that, one film that instantly came to mind is Luca. A film about two friends sharing the same hidden identity that could get them hurt if they went public feels like it was meant to be a queer story in many ways. Even if it wasn't, the subtext is strong enough that it can be embraced as such, especially considering the powerful final words from the grandmother.
WE ARE WHO WE ARE (2020)
Jack Dylan Grazer is one of the most talented up-and-coming actors in Hollywood, and his work in We Are Who We Are really puts that on full display. This miniseries certainly has its primary characters, but it’s really an ensemble piece that explores issues of love, infidelity, identity, and life. It’s a multifaceted, multi-layered series that hits on every human emotion. It can best be described as “just good vibes.”
NOW APOCALYPSE (2019)
Another Gregg Araki entry, Now Apocalypse highlights sexuality and self-discovery between young people through Araki’s bizarre indie film style and a neon-soaked backdrop. The characters are filled with so much life and personality that it's a shame the show was canceled after one season. Now Apocalypse is a statement that sexuality is essential to the human condition and that there are multiple ways to display it with personal zeal and agency. It’s weird, quirky, and fun.
HERE COMES YOUR MAN (2021- PRESENT)
Dekkoo is an up-and-coming streaming service that focuses on primarily queer content, and their original series Here Comes Your Man is one of the best things I’ve seen on the platform. It’s a truly independent show that feels as professional and well-funded as anything I’ve seen. Writer/director Omar Salas Zamora understands what he wants out of his story and absolutely delivers. While it could stand alone as a miniseries, I am looking forward to the upcoming second season. If the aforementioned Weekend catches your eye, you’ll definitely want to check out this show about a year-long, unexpected gay romance.
In another world, things like the Hays Code and Legion of Decency would have been nipped in the bud, but sadly, too many studio executives gave in to the pressure. Well, what if they didn’t? Ryan Murphy’s miniseries Hollywood reimagines the past through an alternate timeline that allows us to imagine a brave new world where individuals like Rock Hudson could be openly gay and not blackmailed via threat of being outed. It’s not a flawless show and things work out a little too well, but it's nice to imagine a world where progress started a lot earlier, begging the question: Where would we be now?
EVERY DISNEY MOVIE WITH A MEMORABLE VILLAIN
Admittedly, this is a bit of a hot take, but one that I am standing my ground on. See, back in the day when Hollywood was lousy with censorship due to things like the Hays Code, queer characters were left in the shadows since they couldn’t be explicitly shown on screen. As a result, to some degree of mockery, there were certain signs of a character being queer. Typically, the telltale signs were flamboyance, being unwed, and being the villain. Some are explicit, like The Little Mermaid’s Ursula, whose look was directly inspired by drag queen Divine; meanwhile, others are a little less clear, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ Evil Queen or 101 Dalmatians’ Cruella de Vil. Still, these specific traits are shared by so many Disney villains. Despite the original intent to villainize the queer community, many of these characters have been reclaimed by the community and are queer icons now. Disney seems to have made better, though still questionable, efforts with recent representation though, from the genderfluid aliens Pleakley and Jumba in Lilo & Stitch to Frozen’s queer-coded ice queen Elsa. There’s more work to do, but incremental progress is still progress.
Photo Credits: Photo 1 - Peccadillo Pictures; Photo 2 - Searchlight Pictures; Photo 3 - Samuel Goldwyn Films; Photo 4 - Palisades Tartan; Photo 5 - Amazon Studios; Photo 6 - Imovision; Photo 7 - Memento Films; Photo 8 - Vertical Entertainment; Photo 9, 14 Disney; Photo 10 - HBO; Photo 11 - Starz; Photo 12 - Dekkoo; Photo 13 - Netflix