We pause to look back at the incredible LGBTQ+ representation on the big screen over the past year
Prizm News / December 31, 2019 / By BJ Colangelo /
2019 was a year filled with LGBTQ+ films, mostly period pieces and absolutely dominated by flicks featuring women loving women. Ranging from foreign films we won’t get on streaming until sometime in 2020 to a handful of mainstream releases, films with LGBTQ+ themes came out in full force this year and allowed us plenty of wonderful moments of representation. This list is specifically featuring films that are canonically gay (sorry, Charlie’s Angels reboot) and as we’re dealing with the film industry, this film is unfortunately dominated by white and fit folx as it is with most genres.
- Rocketman (dir. Dexter Fletcher)
After the luxuries taken with the queerness of Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, LGBTQ+ folx were thirsting for something a little more authentic with a lot less erasure. Fortunately, the biopic musical fever dream of Elton John, Rocketman, is exactly the film we were looking for.
- Holy Trinity (dir. Molly Hewitt)
Successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter, Holy Trinity is the story of Trinity, a queer, femme, dominatrix who develops the ability to speak to the dead after huffing a magical aerosol can. Every character in this film is part of the LGBTQ+ community, and a lot of them practice BDSM or perform sex work. It’s a visually stunning work of Chicago-based cinema, a perfect brainchild of director Molly Hewitt (who also works as the performance artist character Glamhag).
- Queer Japan (dir. Graham Kolbeins)
Much of queer centered cinema is dominated by Western cultures, which makes the documentary Queer Japan all the more necessary. Shot over the course of four years, the film is a series of character studies focusing on artists, academics, and activists in the LGBTQ+ community of Japan. It’s a must-see for those looking to expand their queer knowledge and understanding.
- Rafiki (dir. Wanuri Kahiu)
The first film from Kenya to ever screen at the Cannes Film Festival, Rafiki (Swahili for “friend,” not to be confused with the baboon from The Lion King) focuses on the romance between Kena and Ziki, caught between familial turmoil and the fact homosexuality is still against the law in Kenya. Moments of the film can be tough to watch, but it’s a beautiful insight to the power of love in a world that tries to tell you “no.”
- Wild Nights with Emily (dir. Madeleine Olnek)
You know how we constantly complain about the queerness erased from famous literary greats? Well, Madeleine Olnek is fixing the “reclusive spinster” legacy of Emily Dickinson and instead focusing on her longtime relationship with Susan Gilbert. Molly Shannon delivers a career-best performance as Emily Dickinson, and Amy Seimetz absolutely shines as Mabel Todd.
- Elisa y Marcela (dir. Isabel Coixet)
In June 1901, Marcela Gracia Ibeas and Elisa Sánchez Loriga were married, the first same-sex marriage ever recorded in Spain. However, this was only possible because Elisa posed as a man named Mario. Even after the truth came out, their marriage certificate was never annulled, meaning two women were married in Spain nearly 100 years before it would become legal. This stunning black and white film, now available on Netflix, is their story.
- Drag Kids (dir. Megan Wennberg)
If you’ve ever seen a viral video on social media of a small boy who dresses in drag and calls himself “Queen Lactatia,” you’ve seen one of the stars of the Canadian documentary, Drag Kids. Queen Lactatia is joined by Laddy GaGa, Suzan Bee Anthony and Bracken Hanke, (all children under the age of twelve) who perform as drag queens for an insight into artistry, gender presentation, politics, and affirming parenting.
- Someone Great (dir. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson)
Described as “a rom-com for female friendships,” Someone Great features a dynamite trio with Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin), Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect) and DeWanda Wise (She’s Gotta Have It). Wise’s character is struggling with commitment issues to her girlfriend, Leah (Broadway darling, Rebecca Naomi Jones) while also trying to help her friend get over a difficult breakup. While queerness isn’t the center of this film, it’s a really refreshing to see a queer character with a queer romance exist in a film that isn’t solely about struggling with sexuality.
- Vita and Virginia (dir. Chanya Button)
Based on the 1992 play of the same name, Vita and Virginia is the story of the affair between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West that would later inspire Woolf’s novel, Orlando. It’s a British drama and can feel like a slog to get through at times, but the love affair between these two is fascinating and confident, given the fact they were both married and their affair was not a secret.
- Bit (dir. Brad Michael Elmore)
Bit is an intersectional feminist vampire movie starring transgender superhero, Supergirl’s Nicole Maines, as the vampire girl gang’s newest inductee, and their first transgender member. Bit is a punk and fun horror flick, but its representation and writing is so validating, there were moments that legitimately brought me to tears. It’s the movie that we’ve been dying to see on screen for decades, and the fact it exists feels unbelievable. Keep your eyes peeled for this one coming wide release in 2020, trust me.
- End of the Century (dir. Lucio Castro)
Juan Barberini stars as Ocho, a man from Argentina on vacation in Barcelona, who hooks up with Javi (Ramon Pujol); but the men soon realize that they have met before, 20 years earlier in 1999, when they were both in the closet and afraid to pursue their truths. Lucio Castro’s debut is absolutely dripping with sexuality and feels like the Argentinian answer to Call Me By Your Name.
- Changing the Game (dir. Michael Barnett)
There are few arguments more prominent in the case for transgender equality than “what about athletics?” Changing the Game focuses on the lives of Sarah, a skier and teen policymaker in New Hampshire, Andraya, a track star in Connecticut openly transitioning into her authentic self, and Mack Beggs, who continues to make headlines as the Texas State “Women’s” Champion in wrestling, as Texas will not allow him to compete in men’s competition. This is a powerful film, and an absolute must-watch.
- Tell It to the Bees (dir. Annabel Jankel)
Anna Paquin – bisexual icon. Tell It to the Bees is a 1950s period piece about two women who fall in love in the Scottish town where they live, and their town is disgusted and ready to destroy them. The first two-thirds of the film feels like a paint-by-numbers queer drama, but the final third goes absolutely bananas and sort of has to be seen to be believed.
- Her Smell (dir. Alex Ross Perry)
Elisabeth Moss is a national treasure and we do not deserve her. She plays Becky Something, a self-destructive would-be rock star channeling some serious 90s Courtney Love antics. As to be expected of the 90s alt-rock era, this film is littered with queer badasses. Cara Delevingne alone as the queer front-woman for “The Akergirls,” is probably going to launch a thousand Tumblr role-play blogs.
- Seahorse (dir. Jeanie Finlay)
Freddy McConnell is a transgender man known by most as “The Man Who Gave Birth,” and Seahorse (named because Seahorse males give birth) is a touching look at his journey to parenthood. It’s a nuanced insight into the battles between that unforgiving biological clock invading anyone assigned female at birth, and the baby-preventing testosterone that allows McConnell to truly feel like himself.
- Booksmart (dir. Olivia Wilde)
One of the best films of 2019 regardless of genre also happens to feature a queer protagonist! Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever star as Molly and Amy, two overachievers who decide to cut loose on their last night before high school graduation. We learn pretty much immediately that Amy came out her sophomore year but has yet to pursue anything, and her overarching motivation for the whole film is to finally tell her crush how she feels. It’s real, real cute.
- Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. Roman Chimienti, Tyler Jensen)
In 1985, Mark Patton landed the lead in the highly anticipated sequel to the blockbuster film A Nightmare on Elm Street. Instead of skyrocketing to Hollywood fame, the closeted young actor was starring in a subversively queer film that fans hated, didn’t do well at the box office, and ruined his career. Now, nearly 35 years later, Patton is talking for the first time about the experience, the film’s legacy, and what it’s like to come out of hiding to discover you’re an underground queer icon.
- Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)
Hailed by many as one of the best films of the year, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a French historical drama set in the late 18th century about a forbidden affair between an aristocrat and a painter commissioned to paint her portrait. An absolutely gorgeous film overflowing with romance, it’s no wonder this film won the award for Best Screenplay at Cannes and was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards and Golden Globe Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
- Circus of Books (dir. Rachel Mason)
Director Rachel Mason’s Circus of Books is a sweet look at the former proprietors of one of Los Angeles’ most iconic adult bookstores and landmark gay cruising spot, folx that also happen to be her parents. At one point, it is believed that the lil’ Mom and Pop shop was at one point probably the biggest distributor of hardcore gay films in the United States, but Rachel Mason grew up thinking her parents owned a successful, regular old independent bookstore, unaware the street behind the shop was called “Vaseline Alley.” It’s a special piece of LGBTQ+ history and a fascinating look through the eyes of someone struggling to understand their parents’ involvement as a “normal” straight couple.
- The Perfection (dir. Richard Shepard)
The absolute closest thing to an exploitation film for the new millennium, The Perfection is a queer, feminist, psychological nightmare thriller that is unpredictable at every turn. Allison Williams and Logan Browning star as two elite cellists, both former performers from the prestigious Bachoff Academy. This first-time meeting between the two seems amicable enough, but quickly descends into madness, ultra-violence, and revenge.
BJ Colangelo is a social emotional theatre teaching artist with Cleveland Play House and a professional horror film journalist and theorist. Her work has been featured in publications like Blumhouse, Medium, Playboy, Vulture, Birth.Movies.Death, Bloody-Disgusting, and has contributed essays to the books When Animals Attack!, Creepy Bitches, and Hidden Horror 101.