Queer cinema has certainly come a long way in the last few decades, with more and more LGBTQI+ titles being released less controversially and with greater positive acknowledgement from mainstream media.
Slowly, but still with some way to go, we’ve managed to make the presence of queer people in our cinema titles shift. From non-existent, to independent features (to coin the old phrase “gay interest movies”). We were then often featured as the side-lined whimsical characters in straight plot lines before, eventually, heading to the mainstream where whole movie plots can be structured around the queer experience.
With the advancement of LGBTQI+ presence being normalized on our screens (not just our presence, but our experiences with love and intimacy), so too has come positive critical reception and recognition from the media and film industry.
Brokeback Mountain in 2005 for example was met with a huge press, public backlash and much controversy. The leading actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal regularly had to justify their decision to take roles as gay men to the media and defend their own heterosexuality. It was argued at time that the pivotal movie was ‘robbed’ of certain award wins in favour of its heterosexual counterparts, winning mostly in categories that were ‘behind the scenes’ roles rather than any acing or character portrayal.
Flash-forward to 2016 with the release of Moonlight, which was met with wide-spread critical praise and applause, it became the first LGBTQ movie with an all-black cast to win best picture at the Academy Awards. Moving in the right direction then, but not yet perfection.
Although we’re still not exactly on a 50/50 footing, the progress made is not to be diminished and there are many movie titles and actors we have to thank for that. Those who paved the way, who took chances and made ‘it’ happen. We asked you on @ItsLitGayShit for a list of your favourites and we’ve included some of them here, along with a few of our own below.
If you haven’t seen any of these titles – WATCH THEM! They’re kinda very important. We couldn’t list them all, but if we missed your favourite then do feel free to drop us a note in the comments section! Enjoy!
Forced to give up his dreams of art school, Zach spends his days working a dead-end job and helping his needy sister care for her son. In his free time he surfs, draws and hangs out with his best friend, Gabe, who lives on the wealthy side of town. When Gabe’s older brother, Shaun, returns home, he is drawn to Zach’s selflessness and talent. Zach falls in love with Shaun while struggling to reconcile his own desires with the needs of his family.
A bullied and demoralized gay student at an all-boys school uses a magical flower derived from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to turn many in his community gay, including a comely rugby player for himself.
A promiscuous gay party animal falls for a young Mormon missionary, leading to crisis, cliché, and catastrophe.
Two best friends living on the streets of Portland as hustlers embark on a journey of self discovery and find their relationship stumbling along the way. The two develop a strong friendship that is tested by Scott’s ambivalence to street life and his forthcoming inheritance, as well as Mike’s romantic affection for his companion.
The story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California’s first openly gay elected official. Milk was an outspoken gay advocate and politician who was also the first openly gay mayor elected to public office in California. This movie was hugely significant in bringing him recognition for his work in the LGBTQ community today and documents his life, loves and untimely death.
In Mexico City, late teen friends Tenoch Iturbide and Julio Zapata are feeling restless as their respective girlfriends are traveling together through Europe before they all begin the next phase of their lives at college. Enter the beautiful Luisa. The three embark on a road trip of discovery but Luisa is keeping secret and Tenoch and Julio have to figure out what their friendship really means as they grow up. The answer, in-short, is of course a threesome.
U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984. 20 year old closeted gay lad Joe hesitantly arrives in London from Bromley for his first Gay Pride march. He is taken under the collective wing of a group of gay men and Lesbian Steph, who congregate at flamboyant Jonathan and his Welsh partner Gethin’s Soho bookshop.
A chronicle of New York’s drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitious dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality. The documentary observes New York City in the 1980s, and examines the effects of AIDS, homophobia, and violence on the community.
The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys, and their lives over the years. This movie is somewhat of an iconic cornerstone in terms of queer cinema, mainly because it featured Hollywood A-Listers and received global media attention. But what perhaps made the film so significant in its time is that the two main characters – Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) – do not have the flamboyant personalities which were typically socially associated with homosexuality during its release. In fact, they possess a number of qualities that are considered to be masculine, which helped shatter some of the then stereotypes about gay men.
Jordan White and Amy Blue, two troubled teens, pick up adolescent drifter Xavier Red. Together, the threesome embark on a sex and violence-filled journey through an America littered psychos and quickie marts. Directed by queer director Gregg Araki, the movie focuses on the growing attraction between main characters Jordan and Xavier against the backdrop of an apocalyptic America.
A sexually ‘undeclared’ college freshman’s clairvoyant/prophetic dreams are the first sign that something very strange is going on involving his classmates — with him at the centre. The film was awarded the first ever Queer Palm at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival for its contribution to LGBTQ issues, and features multiple sexually fluid or queer characters.
Love, Simon is not only a good coming of age film, but a touching romantic drama as well. No one knows Simon is gay and he’s been secretly communicating with another gay classmate over the internet, who is also unknown. It becomes a story about identity, empathy and how everyone deals with their true selves differently.
A teenager is sent to rehab camp when her straitlaced parents and friends suspect her of being a lesbian. The movie cleverly satirizes the idea of conversion therapy, and follows the characters as they learn to express their sexual identities.
Marina, a transgender woman who works as a waitress and moonlights as a nightclub singer, is bowled over by the death of her older boyfriend. The movie was largely praised for the sensitive, thoughtful way it portrays a transgender woman struggling with loss and helped pave the way for better LGBTQ rights in Chile, where it was written and produced.
In a suburb of London, young Jamie is escaping school sport hours, to avoid being bullied by his comrades. Young Ste, his neighbour, is beaten by his father and comes to sleep overnight where they discover new feelings sharing the same bed. Written by gay playwright Jonathan Harvey, Beautiful Thing sensitively and heart-warmingly tells the story of a blossoming relationship between two young lads.
Young farmer Johnny Saxby numbs his daily frustrations with binge drinking and casual sex, until the arrival of a Romanian migrant worker for lambing season ignites an intense relationship that sets Johnny on a new path.
With an all-star cast, including Robin Williams and Gene Hackman, The Birdcage details a gay cabaret owner and his drag queen companion, who agree to put up a false straight front so that their son can introduce them to his fiancée’s right-wing moralistic parents. A classic and an absolute hoot!
The son of a Baptist preacher unwillingly participates in a church-supported gay conversion program after being forcibly outed to his parents and forced to take part in a gay conversion therapy program. The film cast includes two Oscar winners: Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman; and one Oscar nominee: Lucas Hedges, and is based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name. An absolutely brilliant watch.
Two male English school chums find themselves falling in love at Cambridge. To regain his place in society, Clive gives up his forbidden love, Maurice (pronounced “Morris”) and marries. After his lover rejects him, Maurice finds himself trapped by the oppressiveness of Edwardian society whilst trying to come to terms with and accept his sexuality.
The first LGBTQ movie with an all-black cast to win best picture at the Academy Awards. A chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young, African-American, gay man growing up in a rough neighbourhood of Miami. The movie (along with being tremendously good) is significant because, helped by its Oscar win, it brought widespread attention to a story about a queer person of colour into the mainstream.
We had hundreds of suggestions so couldn’t feature them all, but if we missed your favourite feel free to drop a note in the comments!