Although there are hundreds of well-known movies featuring characters identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, these characters don’t often play major roles. Here is a short list of ten films I have seen that have LGBTQ people as the main characters. Have a box of Kleenexes handy next to that bowl of popcorn.
1. A Fantastic Woman (2017)
A beautiful drama set in Chile about a trans-woman named Marina who navigates the death of her partner, gender discrimination at the hands of his family, and her dream of becoming a famous singer. In real life the actress who plays Marina, Daniela Vega, changed Oscars history by becoming the first transgender person to present at the awards ceremony. In Spanish with English subtitles.
2. Moonlight (2016)
I don’t have many movies in my Amazon movie collection, but this movie is one of the few that made it in there. Truly compelling narrative about a young black man growing up in Miami and coming to terms with his sexuality. It tackles subjects such as abuse, race, poverty, and masculinity in nuanced ways that we don’t always see in mainstream movies with black male protagonists. There isn’t a lot of dialogue or flashy camera-work, and that is what makes the film so beautiful. I have seen it twice and still cry every time I see it. It deserved its Oscar (and also won for the best kiss scene at the MTV Movie Awards). 🙂
3. Milk (2008)
Riveting biopic about the first openly gay person elected to public office in California, this takes place during the beginnings of Harvey Milk’s campaign and progresses until his assassination in 1978. Now of course, since it’s a biopic and not a documentary, there’s probably at least one historian who would say there were facts about Milk’s life that the film could have done a better job of portraying. However, if you have never studied or heard of Harvey Milk, watching this film will at least give you a brief glimpse of his political campaign and his life. The movie has an especially big impact on LGBTQ+ activists because it came out the same year as Proposition 8, an anti-gay amendment that would have outlawed same-sex marriage. If you Google “Milk movie and prop 8”, you’ll find countless articles about the topic.
4. Rent (2005)
I watched this movie for the first time at a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting in high school and still to this day remember most, if not all, of the musical’s numbers by heart. Jonathan Larson, who directed the original Broadway, died at a young age shortly after its production, but he goes down in history as a playwright who addressed real-life issues, such as poverty, sexuality and AIDS, in his productions. While I am sad I will never get to see the actual show (it’s no longer on Broadway), I always know I can watch the movie on a rainy day.
5. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino, this adaptation of the novel by Andre Aciman (I haven’t yet read it but want to) tells the story of a teenager named Elio who meets a 20-something graduate student while living with his parents in ’80s Italy. At first their personalities clash; Elio is an introvert, and Oliver, the grad student, is more outgoing. However, the two soon fall in love with one another, and both men find themselves conflicted about their relationship. I have heard many criticisms of the film, mainly about the ethics of Elio and Oliver’s age-gap relationship (Slate has a great article about it here (https://slate.com/human-interest/2017/11/the-ethics-of-call-me-by-your-names-age-gap-sexual-relationship-explored.html). However, while watching the film, I found their relationship to be more complex than just an older man dating a younger man. Overall, the film was beautiful and made me fall in love with Timothee Chalamet.
6. The Misadventures of Cameron Post (2018)
Excellently directed film about a lesbian teen (played by Chloe Grace Moretz) whose aunt forces her to attend a gay conversion therapy program in an attempt to force her to become straight. During her time at the program, she meets a host of characters who, like her, are just trying to make it through the program and its haunting leader, played by Jennifer Ehle. I haven’t read the book yet, but I now really want to after seeing the film. It’s also the first LGBTQ film I have seen that features an queer-identifying Native American character. It’s a really good movie, and I can’t wait to read the book it’s based on.
7. Pariah (2011)
A young black lesbian named Alike alternates between her social life, where she is free to be her cool queer self with her close friends, and her everyday life at home and at school, where she is forced to conform to everyone’s ideas about how she should dress and behave. When she meets the daughter of her mom’s friend, everything changes and Alike begins to come into her identity as a young queer black woman.
8. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
A moving comedy-drama about a lesbian couple, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, who meet the father of their teenage children. It was my second LGBTQ film after Rent and I absolutely wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
9. Love, Simon (2018)
A sweet coming-of-age film about a teen named Simon who has a great life and great parents but is secretly in love with another boy at school. One of his classmates, Martin, threatens to publicly announce that Simon is gay if he doesn’t get his friend, Abbie, to go out with Martin. It is overall a beautiful film and the novel by Becky Albertalli was also beautifully written.
10. Carol (2015)
A 1950s love story about a married older woman, played by Cate Blanchett, who falls in love with a young woman who works as a sales clerk, played by Rooney Mara. Their relationship is secret, but the two find themselves conflicted as they try to make time to see each other without letting their male partners know. Powerful complex film, especially if you love historical movies.
I am obviously leaving out many more films that feature LGBTQ+ protagonists, so this list is not at all comprehensive. But these ten recommendations are a good start to watching more LGBTQ+ themed cinema.
Got any rainbow-friendly movies to recommend? Let me know!