Graciela Mae Chico | Film Editor
It is safe to say that 2020’s Pride month is one that will be remembered for a very long time. Not due to the parades or a new record on the number of rainbow capitalist floats but, in fact, the lack thereof. This year, as with most events in the foreseeable few months, Pride celebrations around the world are halted due to the global pandemic.
It would be unjust of me to make this article without acknowledging the current events following the murder of George Floyd. The Stonewall Uprising (which happened from the early hours of June 28 to July 3, 1969) occurred amidst the American Civil Rights Movement. The rebellion, for which June’s Pride celebrations originated from, would not have occurred if it were not for Black LGBTQ+ folks leading the way. Pride was never just about rainbows, glitter, and celebrations; it was an uprising against systemic oppression, injustice, and police brutality. Pride as we know it would cease to exist if it were not for the likes of Stormé DeLarverie, a Black butch lesbian and lifelong gay activist who eyewitnesses recall to have thrown ‘the first punch’ that ignited the riots, and Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transwoman and founding member of the Gay Liberation Front.
While lockdown measures are easing, I suspect many of us will still be spending a considerable amount of time indoors. Let’s spend this time wisely and utilise it to celebrate and further educate ourselves on LGBTQ+ history. Queer history has often faced erasure in books, the Stonewall Uprising itself infamous for the intricacies between truth and legend, which makes it all the more important that we continue learning, archiving, and uplifting stories for the future generations. This list focuses on Black LGBTQ+ cinema. Acknowledging our history and supporting diverse narratives and creatives is essential for a better future. Happy Pride!
The Watermelon Woman (1996) dir. Cheryl Dunye
(available on Kanopy, Amazon Prime, BFI Player)
This comedy-drama meets pseudo-documentary is a delightful, charming, and underrated gem. Aside from writing, editing, and directing, Dunye also stars in the film (playing a character of the same name). Cheryl is a lesbian working in a video store who aspires to be a filmmaker, her current project being a documentary about a Black 1930s actress who played many stereotypical ‘mammy’ roles during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The film is revolutionary for being the first feature film to be directed by an ‘out’ Black lesbian, as well as its distinct and authentic tonal approach in chronicling queer history and the life of its characters.
Tangerine (2015) dir. Sean Baker
(All 4, Google Play, iTunes)
Perhaps the most eventful Christmas Eve captured in cinema (and filmed entirely using an iPhone 5S), this comedy-drama set in Los Angeles follow the escapades that ensue when Sin-Dee finds out from her best friend, Alexandra, that her boyfriend has not been faithful to her during her 28 days in prison. The film is visually stunning, the comedy manages to be both heartwarming and heartbreaking; Tangerine captures humanity like no other — strikeout Die Hard because this is the Christmas film.
Paris is Burning (1990) dir. Jennie Livingston
Focusing on the New York City African American and Latinx Harlem drag-ball scene in the 1980s, Livingston’s powerful and enthralling documentary is undoubtedly one of the most important films, not just in LGBTQ+ history, but in cinema as a whole. Watching resilient members of the community flourishing despite the many obstacles and oppressive conditions will leave you inspired and in complete awe. Despite the heartbreaking realities featured in the film, the film carries an exuberant flare and hope that is much needed amidst the current times.
Gay Black Group (1983)
This short documentary is available for free through the British Film Institute
This short film captures the sheer importance of groups and societies within the queer community. Members of the Gay Black Group are interviewed in the historic Gay’s the Word bookshop in London about the complexities of growing up gay and BAME in 1980s Britain — it is enthralling to learn about the similarities between the experiences of folks in the 1980s and in 2020. One of the members interviewed by Paula Ahluwalia is filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien.
Young Soul Rebels (1991) dir. Isaac Julien
Julien’s 1970s coming-of-age film has it all. Skinheads, punks, and soulboys are all interweaved in an entertaining, queer Giallo. The film centres around two disk jockeys Chris and Caz, together, they run a pirate radio station in East London. The two get entangled with the mysterious murder of their friend TJ, all while the entire country is gearing up for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. There are some incredibly memorable shots in the film, only to be trumped by the endless number of iconic outfits worn by the characters and the line ‘so rebellious, so St. Martins School of Art’ (addressed to a Vivienne Westwood wearing, self-proclaimed Socialist punk).
Rafiki (2018) dir. Wanuri Kahiu
Premiering in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2018, Rafiki is revolutionary in that it was the first Kenyan film to do so, the conversations following its release (the film was initially banned by the Kenyan Film Classification Board to screen in its home country) even more so. The story follows a budding romance between two young women, Kena and Ziki. The young lovers face the realities of their relationship amidst their family’s political rivalry and a conservative society; playing like a more vibrant, contemporary, and warm Shakesperian tale.
Moonlight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins
(available on many streaming platforms: Mubi, BFI Player)
Barry Jenkins’ multi Academy Award-winning coming-of-age drama follows Chiron, a young man from Miami. He finds solace and support from drug dealer Juan, whose words of encouragement guides him through adulthood. Split into three parts, the film explores a tender, and often heart-wrenching, journey into adulthood; discovering his sexuality and the trials and tribulations of falling in love.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
(Netflix) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pADsuuPd79E
One of the key figures in the gay liberation movement, this documentary is a good starting point in learning more about Johnson’s life and legacy, as well as her unexplained death which the NYPD pronounced as ‘suicide’ despite her peers believing otherwise. Support Black trans women directly by watching Happy Birthday, Marsha! (2018) directed by Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel on Vimeo and Amazon Prime.
Pariah (2011) dir. Dee Rees
(Youtube, Google Play, Amazon Prime)
This semi-autobiographical debut feature is nothing short of groundbreaking. Seventeen-year-old, Brooklynite Alike (Adepero Oduye) is coming to terms with her lesbian identity. While close friends within the community encouraged her to wholly accept who she is, the acceptance comes at the cost of the further deterioration of her familial relationships, which were already in rocky waters. Oduye’s performance is exceptional and Rees’ writing and use of shots are so beautifully and poetically composed; exploring the intricacies of being an outsider in your own home like no other.
Hearts Beat Loud (2018) dir. Brett Haley
(Youtube, Google Play, iTunes)
Hearts Beat Loud is a charming, musical comedy-drama, about the coming-of-age of Sam (Kiersey Clemons) and… her dad Frank (Nick Offerman). While Sam is the one preparing to move out for college, both father and daughter face the struggles of growing up. Not only does Frank have to come into terms with the closing of his record store, he faces the struggles of letting go of his daughter, both in her impending journey to UCLA and her decision to not be in a band with her own father. If you like the idea of Nick Offerman playing a dad, and Mitski and Sleater Kinney references, this is that film. It exists and you should watch it.
Please consider learning more about these LGBTQ+ charities and donating if you can:
LGBT Switchboard: https://switchboard.lgbt/,
The Marsha P. Johnson Institute: https://twitter.com/MPJInstitute