10 Landmark Films About LGBTQ+ Stories
The LGBTQ+ rights movement has often taken place on stage, in music and on screen, with many pivotal chapters and sea changes being ushered in or celebrated by watershed moments in the arts and entertainment. Film is a medium that has allowed for emotional storytelling and self-expression from a community that often felt silenced, and also a medium for broadening perspective and fostering acceptance in a society that hadn’t always been tolerant.
Although not a comprehensive list, here are 10 films that stand out for their cultural impact and legacy in LGBTQ+ storytelling and rights movement.
The Boys in the Band (1970)
One year after the 1969 Stonewall riots which proved a huge stepping stone in the gay rights movement, drama film The Boys in the Band was released. It is often considered the first genuine attempt by Hollywood to make a film for gay audiences that portrayed gay characters in an honest light, and is now considered a major milestone in queer cinema.
Ranked by the British Film Institute as the best LGBT film of all time, Carol is a period drama about a forbidden affair between two women in 1950’s New York. It received a ten-minute standing ovation after its screening at the Cannes Film Festival, but was notably excluded from nominations at that years Academy Awards, which many critics attributed to its overtly gay themes.
Milk is a biographical film that tells the story of politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay person to hold office in the state of California, his career, and eventual assassination. The film was lauded by critics and brought a chapter of the gay rights movement to new levels of recognition and support. It went on to garner 8 Oscar nominations.
Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a gay black man, through three chapters in his life. The drama received critical acclaim for its noteworthy for its immediate, arresting filmmaking and raw emotionality, and went on to win Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards.
Starring Tom Hanks in an Oscar-winning performance, Philadelphia is a legal drama film that is credited as one of the first major motion pictures to tackle homophobia and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Since the beginning of the crisis in the early 80’s, mainstream American culture had often downplayed or dismissed the extend of the pandemic. Its portrayal on the big screen was part of the tide turnings towards understanding, and away from homophobia and dehumanization.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s, LGBTQ+ representation in film was often either campy films for niche audiences, or characters in mainstream films who were stereotypical or simply a punchline. This changed with Brokeback Mountain, a sprawling, deeply sincere film centered on the strained and secret love between two cowboys over two decades in the American West. It was met with acclaim, controversy, and censorship, became a benchmark in queer cinema, and is now considered a turning point for LGBTQ+ stories becoming mainstream.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
As described above, many gay films after the AIDS crisis and before Brokeback Mountain were often campy and niche, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t heartfelt, human and groundbreaking in their own right. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is an Australian comedy about two drag queens and a transgender woman who embark on a road trip after accepting an offer to perform a show at a casino. Priscilla was praised for its portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters in a positive light and credited with elevating queer stories to the mainstream. It even starred Hugo Weaving in one of his earlier roles.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Call Me By Your Name, based on a book of the same name, tells the story of a teenager living with his family in 1980’s rural Italy who begins to form a connection with a graduate studen who comes to stay with his family over the summer. The film received praise for its cinematography as well as its nuanced navigation of identity, love, coming of age, and newborn desire.
Paris is Burning (1990)
A groundbreaking documentary chronicling the spirited, defiant ballroom culture of queer New York in the 1980s. Paris is Burning captured forms of dance, aesthetics and lingo that are hallmarks of queer history and influence pop culture today.
Love, Simon (2018)
A heartfelt, coming-of-age high school story. Teenager Simon struggles with his identity and how to express himself to the world around him, finding connection in unexpected places. Love, Simon was noted for portraying gay characters and relationships in an uplifting and romantic light, whereas many LGBTQ+ films have often focused on tragedy and alienation.