The past few weeks have been filled with grief and outrage, and there’s still a long road ahead in the fight for racial justice.
It might seem counter-intuitive to be celebrating anything right now, but Pride will always hold importance for the LGBTQ+ community; while the tone may feel more somber this year, it’s a reminder that at its core, Pride has always been about defiance, action, visibility, reflection, acceptance and love.
And there is a lot of work left to do in the fight for equality, especially when it comes to protecting Black trans and queer individuals. Part of that process involves boosting representation and telling diverse stories, so that the world can see how brave, beautiful and resilient the LGBTQ+ community is. Now, more than ever, that representation and those stories are coming to the forefront in movies and on TV; while not all stray from prescribed narratives, important issues and realities are opened up for discussion. Take some time out this month to explore vibrant on-screen portrayals of the Black LGBTQ+ community, which has made immense contributions to queer culture. Reflect on how much is owed to QTPOC, and take steps to protect and support Black lives, now and always.
Some of you may have watched (or at least may be familiar with) The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, a documentary about Marsha P. Johnson, the Black trans woman who was a key figure in the Stonewall Riots of 1969. (AKA why we even celebrate Pride in the first place.) That’s not to say the documentary doesn’t offer an informative look at her life, but it’s worth mentioning that the film is steeped in controversy as director David France allegedly stole research from trans rights activist, artist and filmmaker Tourmaline. As such, we’ll instead (or additionally, you choose) point you in the direction of Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel’s film Happy Birthday, Marsha!, a take unobscured by the white cisgender lens.
This film is FANTASTIC. (It’s also devastating in a lot of ways, so get the tissues ready.) Written and directed by Dee Rees, the film is set in NYC, and spotlights Adepero Oduye as Alike, a 17-year-old Black butch lesbian who’s coming to terms with her identity. She becomes comfortable expressing herself pretty much everywhere except home, where her religious parents (namely her mother) are becoming increasingly suspicious and disapproving of her sexuality. That, coupled with navigating a complicated crush, accounts for the aforementioned devastation, BUT, Alike is strong in her sense of self, and the ending feels hopeful. (Which we all know can be an elusive rarity in queer cinema!)
Still hard to believe this one was shot entirely on a modified iPhone 5s! The beautiful and vibrant footage takes us on a Christmas Eve journey rife with mishaps as trans sex worker Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) hit the streets of LA on a mission; they’re after Sin-Dee’s pimp boyfriend who’s been cheating on her with a cis woman while she was serving time in prison. Tangerine’s humor softens the tough circumstances that many trans women of color face without completely erasing them; it’s a melancholic comedy that’s fun to watch, but that offers a reminder of the vulnerabilities of the QTPOC community. Really well-done, thanks in no small part to Rodriguez and Taylor’s on-screen chemistry.
Paris is Burning is a queer classic that’s still relevant today, and it’s a must-watch for fans of voguing. In this documentary, which was filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, you’ll see how New York City ballroom culture began, as well as how an entire community was pushed to the edge during the AIDS crisis. It’s a highly emotional journey that highlights the contributions of Black and Latinx queer and trans individuals during the Golden Age of drag balls, and it’s an important piece of on-screen history to further your LGBTQ education.
POSE is a natural companion to Paris is Burning; a truly addictive show also about the height of ballroom and the AIDS crisis, it features beautiful storytelling interwoven with fabulous moments. While the story is fictional, the characters feel as if they’ve really lived through these moments. Amazing representation with a formidable Black and trans cast, and 100% binge-worthy.
For a more current look at drag ball culture, most definitely check out Kiki; released in 2016, the documentary has been hailed as the sequel to Paris is Burning as they deal with similar issues, but Kiki focuses much more heavily on LGBTQ teens, and highlights Black Lives Matter, trans rights and sex work as well. The film offers a crucial glimpse into the discrimination that the LGBTQ community (especially Black trans individuals) continues to face even now, because it can be easy to think how far we’ve come and forget how much work we have left to do; it’s an important reminder that we need to be vigilant in supporting causes that promote the welfare and wellbeing of those who face hardship simply for being themselves.
Obviously. If you’ve somehow managed to sleep on this incredible Oscar-winning film, it explores the intersections of what it means for a man to be Black, queer and poor in America. It goes deep, asking tough, existential questions about the interconnectedness of past, present and future. (And yes, it’s a tearjerker.) Beautiful, moving, and a must-watch if you’ve managed to miss it until now. (It didn’t win Best Picture for nothing.)
This documentary might be a polarizing one since it deals heavily with violence (and Louis CK also had a hand in its production), but it’s still an important mention because it highlights the discrimination and abuse faced by LGBTQ youth, especially Black LGBTQ youth. Check It is a film about the only (so far) documented LGBTQ gang in the United States. (Maybe the whole world.) It began in 2009 in DC after a group of ninth graders became fed up with constant bullying and assault, and decided they were going to fight back quite literally. Some heartbreaking backstories add context to the resort to violence; while it’s never the ideal solution, this gang has offered an otherwise vulnerable population the chance to assert themselves and survive.
Sex Education is set in the UK, and centers around high school students trying to figure out sex (plus everything else). The show is hysterical, and Eric Effiong is EASILY one of the best characters; played by Ncuti Gatwa, he’s fun, loud and proud, not to mention his sense of style is next level. His character isn’t without struggles (having come from from a religious household, getting into a complicated relationship with the school bully, and in one episode, getting attacked for his gender expression), but fortunately his sense of identity as a gay Black man is strong, and he’s able to overcome whatever life throws his way – he’s here, he’s queer, get used to it!
(BONUS: Patricia Allison plays Ola Nyman, who comes out as pansexual in the second season of the show.)
Rafiki is a revolutionary, defiant film about two women falling in love in a place where they will never fully be accepted, because in Kenya (where it was made and set) gay sex is illegal. It was actually the first LGBTQ movie to be allowed to be shown in theaters in Kenya, which, while a huge deal, was actually only allowed to happen on a technicality; the director (Wanuri Kahiu) informed the Kenya Film Classification Board that it couldn’t be considered for an Oscar unless it had screened for at least 7 days in national theaters, and so the KFCB reluctantly complied, unbanning it for a week. So, you can imagine that the film is pretty realistically heavy in places, but that’s not to say it doesn’t come with an uplifting ending. If you’re in the space to power through some of the more difficult scenes, it’s a really fantastic watch.
Did we miss your favorite one? Let us know about it in the comments!