June of every year is Pride month. The month honors the Stonewall riots and the efforts of LGBTQ+ activists during the summer of 1969. Even over half a century later queer activists are still fighting for equal rights across the United States of America.
I would like to honor and celebrate queer filmmakers and artists by listing some of my favorite LGBTQ+ movies. These movies are all special to me for various reasons, and I can’t wait to share them with you!
Maurice is a 1987 drama film directed by James Ivory. The film is an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel by the same name. Maurice is a true slow-burn. It follows the life and loves of Maurice (James Wilby) as he studies, works, and lives in England during the Edwardian period.
Maurice’s life is forever changed by Clive (Hugh Grant) as they explore a secret romantic relationship. Things are difficult for them because during this period of English society homosexual relationships were illegal. The fear of being caught and ostracized by everyone around them weighs down on Clive and Maurice. Eventually they must decide what’s most important to them, and whether or not their relationship will last.
Maurice is available to stream on Tubi.
the watermelon woman (1996)
Cheryl Dunye’s feature film The Watermelon Woman is a lesbian rom-com from the New Queer Cinema movement. The film was written, directed, and edited by Dunye and she also stars in it. In The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl works at a video store and is invested in researching Black actresses from the 1930s and 1940s.
The film follows Cheryl’s journey into finding the true identity of an actress only named as “The Watermelon Woman”. At the same time she starts seeing Diane (Guinevere Turner), a white customer at the video store. The film explores Dunye’s relationships with her identity and history as a Black lesbian, while exploring the erasure of Black actresses and lesbians from the canon of film history.
The Watermelon Woman is available to stream on Hulu and Philo.
Bound is a lesbian crime thriller directed by a pair of trans icons: the Wachowski sisters. The film takes the lesbian butch/femme aesthetic and turns it on its head, leaving viewers with a sexy and action-packed ride. Corky (Gina Gershon) is fresh out of prison and now works repairing apartments. She runs into Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and the two begin a secret love affair.
Their romance isn’t the only secret the two are hiding. The lesbian couple hatches an intricate plan to steal millions of dollars from the mob and let Violet’s horrible boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) take the fall. Bound is a fun, cool, and sexy movie that proves that lesbians are complete badasses.
Bound is available to stream on Prime Video.
Dee Rees’s 2011 coming-of-age film Pariah is absolutely breathtaking. The film tells the story of Alike (Adepero Oduye) as she tries to figure out how to balance her sexuality and gender with her family. Alike is a butch lesbian, but must hide that part of her identity from her mother Audrey (Kim Wayans).
Alike develops feelings for Bina (Aasha Davis), another teenage girl from Alike’s church. Pariah is a beautiful (and gut-wrenching) depiction of growing up as a Black lesbian, and of having to hide your true identity around homophobic family. The movie explores themes that are specific to Alike’s journey, but can also feel relatable to anyone who has felt like they can’t be their authentic self with the people in their life.
Pariah is available to stream on HBOMax.
Another 2011 release I want to highlight is Céline Sciamma’s coming-of-age story Tomboy. Sciamma, director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), often tackles issues of gender and sexuality in her films. Tomboy tells the story of Laure (Zoé Héran) as she and her family move to a new house.
With a fresh start ahead, Laure decides to experiment with gender and introduces herself as “Mickaël” to the neighborhood kids. He dresses more like masculinely and the neighborhood boys accept him. The film explores Mickaël’s first love with Lisa (Jeanne Disson) and his summer of acceptance and disapproval from his family and friends.
Tomboy is available to stream on the Criterion Channel.
god’s own country (2017)
Whenever I start talking about queer movies Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) always enters the conversation. And while I love the movie (and believe it got truly snubbed at the Academy Awards), I think God’s Own Country is the perfect progression of Brokeback Mountain at the modern crossroads of cinema and queerness.
The movie follows Johnny (Josh O’Connor) as he struggles to run his family farm. He spends his days working in solitude and his nights drinking and engaging in hook-ups. His family hires Gheorghe (Alec Secăreanu), a Romanian migrant, to help Johnny on the farm. Their relationship starts rocky but eventually Johnny realizes his feelings for the other man are rapidly growing. And unlike Brokeback Mountain, no one dies at the end!
God’s Own Country is available to stream on Hulu.
Rafiki, directed by Wanuri Kahiu, is a Kenyan drama film. The movie follows Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) as they become friends and lovers.
Both Kena and Ziki’s fathers are running for the local elections but are on opposing sides. Despite their differences the two women’s relationship grows until they’re found out by their families and community. Rafiki was banned by the Kenyan Film Classification Board for its homosexual themes. The ban was lifted to allow the film eligibility to enter in the Academy Awards.
Rafiki is available to stream on Showtime.
Lingua Franca (2019)
Isabel Sandoval’s 2019 drama film Lingua Franca is an absolutely gorgeous and sensual movie. The film depicts the struggles of Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) as she endeavors to become a U.S. citizen during Trump’s presidency. Her status as both an undocumented immigrant and a trans woman make her vulnerable to American institutions. In spite of the danger she’s constantly in – both from ICE and transphobia – Olivia is a woman of beauty and care who relies on her own inner strengths.
Olivia enters a secret relationship with Alex (Eamon Farren), the grandson of the woman she’s a caregiver for. While he accepts her for who she is, he makes the blundering mistakes that cisgender people often do when entering relationships with transgender people. Lingua Franca is a film not only about finding love and acceptance from others, but about finding it from within. Isabel Sandoval (who directed the episode “Revelation” from Under the Banner of Heaven) is one of my favorite directors and I’m excited for her new film Tropical Gothic!
Lingua Franca is available to stream on Netflix.
Probably my strangest addition to this list is Julia Ducournau’s body-horror film Titane. This film is filled with gore, and I love making the argument that this movie is very queer-coded.
I won’t attempt to explain Titane‘s entire plot because I think it’s best to go into the film without knowing a lot about it. However, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is such an intriguing character and her arcs as both Alexia and Adrien comes across as very trans-coded. Body horror, and Titane‘s unique approach to the genre, is so tied to how trans and non-binary people view our own bodies (along with how cisgender people view us).
Titane is available to stream on Hulu.
fire island (2022)
The last film I would like to mention for this year’s Pride month is Andrew Ahn’s new rom-com Fire Island. The film premiered this month on Hulu!
I’ve already covered Fire Island so I encourage you to read that for a more in-depth review of the film. Fire Island is hilarious, sexy, and heartwarming just like all the best rom-coms are. The film is a modern (and very gay) retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, but is also so much more. If you are in the mood for a funny and happy gay pride movie Fire Island is the film for you!
Fire Island is available to stream on Hulu.