10 films that pave the way for LGBTQ+ representation
LGBTQ+ people have gradually, if inconsistently, been getting better representation in films in recent years. The Cannes, Berlin and Venice film festivals offer LGBTQ+ specific awards and according to a study by GLAAD, 13 per cent of films released by major studios in 2017 featured characters that identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer – this was, however, down by almost six per cent from the previous year. Given the success of Oscar-winning and nominated productions like ? and all of which depict LGBTQ+ characters with varying degrees of success; while most notably was criticized for its “straightwashing” of Freddy Mercury’s homosexuality – hopefully that figure is set to increase in 2019.
When it comes to the diversity of LGBTQ+ film characters there is still work to be done; queer characters of colour are even more scarce on screen. There are, of course, exceptions: and all made waves at international film festivals and awards ceremonies in recent years. To mark the arrival of Pride month in June, here is the edit of 10 LGBTQ+ films that have paved the way for better representation in cinema.
While the furore around the announcement of Best Picture at the 89th Oscars – mistakenly awarding , before quickly correcting to (above) – might have initially distracted from the film’s subject matter, it deserves to be recognised for its enduring relevance and impact. Based on a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, it focuses on themes of race, masculine identity and sexuality, following a young man as he grows into adulthood. Director Barry Jenkins was hailed at the time as a talent to watch and has proved critics right more recently with , his award-winning adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same name.
A Fantastic Woman (2017)
This drama, by Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, stars Daniela Vega as a trans woman (above) dealing with the sudden death of her older boyfriend, charting the transphobia she faces from her late lover’s relatives and the police throughout her grieving process. Vega’s acting debut was one of the standout performances of the year, and although she didn’t receive any nominations herself, the film won Best Foreign Language picture and Vega became the first openly trans actress to present an Oscar in the Academy’s 90-year history.
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Fans of the FX series – which premiered in 2018 – need look no further. The true inspiration behind the show lies in Jennie Livingston’s documentary , a documentary that captures the ballroom and drag culture of 1980s New York. Featuring interviews with the real-life key players of the Vogueing scene, including Dorian Corey and Willi Ninja, the viewer is schooled in queer terminology, much of which (see “reading” and “shade”) is now used in mainstream culture.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)
Gay conversion therapy centres may sound archaic, but this story is set in relatively recent history (1993), featuring Chloë Grace Moretz as a lesbian teenager (above) sent to one such centre by her devout Christian mother. Assured direction from Desiree Akhavan not only brings out one of Moretz’s best performances, but more importantly sheds light on a practice that’s still prevalent today. A 2015 study conducted by Stonewall found that 10 per cent of health and care staff in the UK have witnessed colleagues expressing the belief that lesbian, gay and bi people can be ‘cured’ of their sexual orientation. Hopefully Akhavan’s work (along with the likes of Joel Edgerton’s (2019), based on American writer Garrard Conley’s memoir of gay conversion therapy) can help to change this damaging perception.
Sex, a 1990s wardrobe to die for and giant space lizards – those familiar with director Gregg Araki’s work will feel right at home with this dark comedy. In keeping with Araki’s other cult offerings, , and , ’s eye-popping visuals are matched by its outrageous dialogue and often explosive violence. Araki’s directing style may not be for the faint hearted, but it’s gained him a devoted fan base and several accolades. His 2010 queer sci-fi fantasy, , won the first ever Queer Palm award at Cannes for its contribution to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. More recently, in March 2019, he turned his hand to television with – an eight-episode sex-positive series set in Los Angeles that follows the character Ulysses as he navigates the world of dating and hook-up apps.
120 Beats Per Minute (2017)
Set in 1990s Paris, this French political drama (above) follows the early efforts of the Act Up movement – founded in New York in 1987, and Paris in 1989 – a reaction to the glacial response of governments to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. The story is told via the blossoming relationship between HIV-positive veteran activist Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and HIV-negative newcomer Nathan (Arnaud Valois), as they protest against corporate pharmaceutical companies and the French health service who are withholding vital medication. Powerful, immersive and often heartbreakingly sad, the movie stays with the viewer long after the closing credits and shines a light on the lesser known Act Up movement in Europe.
From director Dee Rees, focuses on a young African American woman exploring her identity as a lesbian in NYC. American actress Adepero Oduye plays the lead, Alike, a burgeoning 17-year-old poet who develops feelings for her close friend Bina (played by Aasha Davis), but struggles with the hostility she faces from her family. Through a female gaze, the film not only considers the subjects of feminism and lesbian identity, but also self-worth and acceptance.
God’s Own Country (2017)
British film-maker Frances Lee’s directorial debut (above) tells the story of a Yorkshire sheep farmer, Johnny (Josh O’Connor), and his relationship with a Romanian shepherd, Gheorghe (Alec Secăreanu). Living with his aging parents and looking after both them and the farm, Johnny’s outlook is bleak; until the arrival of Gheorghe who injects a sense of vitality into his life, with affection and courage. Both actors hold the screen with powerful intent, nuanced gestures and little dialogue that speaks volumes. For his next act, O’Connor is set to play a young Prince Charles in the latest series of Netflix’s ; while Lee’s upcoming feature, , tells the story of 19th-century palaeontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and her romance with another woman, played by Saoirse Ronan.
The story surrounding Kenyan film-maker Wanuri Kahiu’s is as dramatic as the tale that unfolds onscreen. It’s basic premise – a lesbian teen romance set in a provincial Kenyan town – may not seem scandalous to some audiences, but it turned out to be a strong political statement. Days after it was selected for Cannes, the film was banned in Kenya – where homosexuality is illegal – by the Film Classification Board for its “clear intent to promote lesbianism”. Despite online trolling and threats of arrest, Kahiu refused to be silenced; the film debuted at the 2018 festival and, following a successful lawsuit against the Board, the ban was lifted briefly to screen in cinemas across Kenya for seven days, making it eligible for the 2019 Academy Awards (although it missed out on a nomination). Now, the 39-year-old film-maker is suing the Kenyan government for infringement of freedom of expression.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s novel captured the minds and hearts of cinemagoers around the world when it was released in 2017. Set against the backdrop of a long, languorous summer spent in northern Italy, the chemistry that develops between Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) is so palpable that the audience feels every moment of frustration, desire, love and heartbreak along with them. But the story doesn’t end there. October 2019 will see the release of Aciman’s sequel, , which Guadagnino has expressed an interest in directing, promising to ignite the shared literary and filmic fandom once more.