Updated: Apr 6, 2021
I don’t know if it’s always been like this, but I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of an era in which acceptance of those different from the norm are more heavily represented in the media. While I still struggle to compile a list of films which portray queerness unproblematically, the ones I want to lift up are all recent.
Watch Call me by Your Name, and Brokeback Mountain this Pride season of course, but also make sure to sit down for these noteworthy queer films as well.
Maybe I’m biased, but my personal favorite gay film was written, directed, and starred the incredibly unapologetic, Desiree Akhavan. Appropriate Behavior follows the story of an unemployed, New York City resident after a breakup. What makes it different from every other starving artist film tale you’ve seen, is that on top of it, she’s dealing with the intersections of her Persian and bisexual identity. Oh, and it’s also excruciatingly vulnerable.
Akhavan’s character, Shirin, struggles with being queer in a culture that doesn’t accept it. Perhaps the most memorable quote from the film is one she gives her ex-girlfriend, mixed with political undertones and humor, as Akhavan so often does, “I come from Iran, Maxine. You know, where they stone gay people?". The story follows her intimate hookups, the Iranian-American lifestyle, and coming out to her parents. The film holds a close place to my heart, and is a must see for anyone else who feels like they’re fumbling through the trickiness life.
Another completely heart wrenching but critical film, is Paris is Burning. Maybe you’ve heard of it, but never seen it, just like me until this past December. It’s one you must sit down for this June. It’s worth it.
This documentary follows closely into the 1980’s New York City drag scene. Almost every life documented is a person of color. While showcasing the glamour and glitz, the complexity and hardships of being in a marginalized group seeps through. The director, Jennie Livingston, pairs handheld, bedroom shots with some of the subjects’ voicing their deepest contemplations. Through this simple rawness, you can’t help but absolutely feel for the subjects who are trying so hard to achieve their big dreams. While there’s a lack of showing some of the queens’ futures, you learn about the devastating truth of others.
Lastly, I find it important to highlight a work that doesn’t revolve around just being gay. While these previously stated movies are extremely notable and important in queer cinema, their focus is on the journey of being a queer person. What I always root for, are stories in which characters are happy and just being queer. Stories that normalize it.
I probably first found this instance when watching Netflix’s, Atypical. After the first season, I grew so attached to the sister to the protagonist, Casey, that I followed her on Instagram. The actress, Brigette Lundy-Paine, keeps her sexuality the furthest thing from a secret on her social media, that I found it bizarre that Casey had a boyfriend in the show. I could only hope that before the second season, she begged to the writer’s room for Casey to be queer. However it went down, it did. Casey was seen falling slowly for her friend, and it was so natural. While Atypical showed her being confused about her sexuality, it was never explicit. The story was never about Casey suffering or the classic coming out stereotype. She got to freely and happily fall for who she naturally did.
A tremendous path has been paved in queer cinema, from highlighting the narratives of queer people of color, to normalizing it on television. More and more audience members are able to identity with those on the screen before them than ever before. While there is always room for improvement, we are alive during a monumental era of such an important genre of film.