June is LGBT Pride Month. In 2000, Pride Month was officially designated by President Bill Clinton as an annual observance, and every year many events occur across the US and globally to highlight the diversity and history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
The last few years have seen an explosion in blockbuster films featuring LGBT characters and relationships. From dramas like Moonlight and The Favorite, to coming-of-age stories in Love, Simon and Booksmart, and celebrity biopics Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, the complexities of LGBT life are making their way to the silver screen like never before.
Historically, LGBT characters in mainstream cinema were closeted, villainized, and mocked (perspectives on this history up through the mid-1990s appear in the documentary The Celluloid Closet). The gay or transgender character is the source of horror or laughter in everything from Silence of the Lambs to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. When LGBT characters are the protagonists in their own stories, these narratives often end with death, betrayal, and heartbreak. The message that this sends is that LGBT people cannot lead happy, complex, or dignified lives.
The recent wave of more positive and nuanced representation does not mean an end to all negative cinematic depictions of the LGBT community; the shift in American and global attitudes toward sexuality and gender is ongoing and incomplete. However, Pride month is an opportunity to recognize the resilience of LGBT communities and filmmakers who have worked from the margins to shift the mainstream dialogue.
With these Pride month recommendations, I wanted to share five limited-release films made by and about LGBT people. Whether you’re in the mood for history, spoken word, drama, or feel-good romance, Wells Media Services has got you covered.
Ever wondered why Pride month is in June? The simple answer is that the Stonewall Riots started on June 28, 1969, in New York City. The facts of the Stonewall Riots are complicated and much debated, but they are understood as a key historical flashpoint for the LGBT rights movement in the United States. Before Stonewall tells the story of the Riots, but also illuminates LGBT American history since the 1920’s.
Where to find it: Streaming via IUCAT, both on and off campus.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Marlon Riggs’ experimental documentary Tongues Untied. Riggs combines dance, spoken word, and documentary to express the pain and beauty of being a black gay man in America. Tongues Untied made history due to its form and political content. Despite controversy over the film in the public sphere, this documentary, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and originally aired on PBS, would become an award-winning work.
Written and directed by Daniel Ribeiro, this Portuguese film portrays a tender love story between high school students Leo and Gabriel. Leo navigates his blindness, burgeoning sexuality, and the trials of being a teenager with the support of his best friend Giovana. The film represents sexuality as well as disability with nuance and heart.
Where to find it: Media Services Browsing section.
For another look into LGBT American history, check out Screaming Queens, a documentary produced by Gender Studies scholar Susan Stryker. Although Stonewall is commonly referred to as the first gay or transgender riot, Stryker shares the story of a 1966 riot in San Francisco. Like Before Stonewall, Screaming Queens provides a broader historical perspective on the criminalization of homosexuality and cross-dressing, police harassment of LGBT people, and resistance by the LGBT community.
If you’re searching for a Sundance-premiering, independent-award-winning film to impress your friends with, look no further than Tangerine, a comedic drama about transgender sex worker Sin-Dee and her best friend Alexandra. Tangerine takes us on a wild, harrowing, sometimes hilarious ride through the culture and life of Los Angeles, as the two heroines hunt down Sin-Dee’s cheating boyfriend. The film is aesthetically impressive, especially considering it was shot entirely on an iPhone 5. Yes, that’s right, an iPhone 5!
Where to find it: Media Services Teaching & Research section (click link for call number).
Josie Wenig is a PhD student in Religious Studies, studying early Christianity, philosophy, and transgender theory.