With important protests taking place around the globe and many countries coming to the tail end of a pandemic, there’s been more incentive than usual to sink into the arts — to entertain ourselves and stay informed. We can’t celebrate Pride this year the way we normally would — not to mention the Trump administration’s recent attack on trans people’s healthcare — but we can still mark the occasion by supporting LGBT filmmakers, sharing our stories on screen, and allowing ourselves some escapism. With that said, here are 10 films to add to your watchlist to honor Pride month.
1. Paris is Burning
Jennie Livingston’s unforgettable documentary utilizes New York City’s drag scene — particularly ballroom culture — during the 80s to viscerally chronicle the lives of queens trying to make their way in a world that requires them to make their own celebratory spaces. The film flows with a series of narrated vignettes and elegant camera work, appropriately capturing ‘voguing’ in all its emphatic glory, as well as the specific struggles of the black people who invented it. Paris is Burning is a canonical classic of LGBT cinema, but the 2019 remaster, which breathes new life into it, is the perfect excuse to revisit.
If Paris is Burning is a classic in the traditional sense, Moonlight — the life story of a young boy named Chiron told in three segments — is a modern one. It released to critical acclaim and — more importantly — open arms of the community it represents. Barry Jenkins’ sensitive, Miami-set vision reckons with masculinity, the loneliness of being different, and the armor of a man who has built himself up so he can never be hurt again. It’s both tranquil and utterly heartbreaking, with each chapter of Chiron’s life fading into the next.
3. Imagine Me & You
This quintessential lesbian rom-com is delightful for the same reasons a heterosexual one might be: starry-eyed first glances, awkward run-ins at the grocery store, and utterly charming leading ladies. Lena Headey and Piper Perabo star as Luce and Rachel, who meet during Luce’s wedding ceremony. It, unfortunately, features some negative lesbian and bisexual movie staples — mainly the cheating/love triangle — but it does have a spectacularly cheesy happy ending. LGBT themed films don’t need to always have to have happy endings — our lives and history are more complicated than that — but we could certainly use one right now.
If you’re less fussed about happy endings and more concerned with meditations on yearning and deftly executed emotional turmoil, this one is for you. Novitiate follows a group of young women in the 1960s who are preparing to become nuns, and Margaret Qualley turns in a career-best as Kathleen, who is forced her to reexamine her relationship with desire and autonomy when she falls in love with another woman at her church.
5. Saving Face
With The Half of It dropping on Netflix recently, it’s a good time to travel back to Alice Wu’s other lesbian romance. Saving Face is about expectations, learning to live with imperfect familial relationships, and romantic identity. Its musings on Chinese-American culture are as inviting as its central romance: a tense blossoming between two young women that begins at a party at which one of them is being directed towards single men by her well-meaning mother. Wu has spoken about The Half of It being as much about its main character’s relationship with a straight person in her life as it is anything else, which makes sense considering Saving Face ruminates on the same thing: how our changing identities will affect the people closest to us.
6. Jennifer’s Body
Karyn Kusama’s criminally underrated sex-horror penned by the wonderfully talented Diablo Cody had a long time to wait before it got its due, but now that it has, it’s a cult favorite. Its famous makeout scene, 2000s pop-rock soundtrack, and comedic examination of sexual sovereignty are just three of the many reasons to cross it off your list. There’s more to it than you might think.
7. Desert Hearts
One of Criterion‘s many remastered titles, Desert Hearts is a bit of a hidden gem. Made in 1985 and set in 1959, the film explores a budding relationship between a conservative professor and the free-spirited younger woman she meets on her travels. The film has an inspiring backstory and was a risky passion project that director Donna Deitch and stars Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau injected love into despite not knowing if it would ever be seen. Regardless of the film’s fate, the crew achieved a well-shot, beautifully realized drama in a time when people weren’t chomping at the bit to get involved with gay storytelling.
Sean Baker’s iPhone-shot, vivid 2015 feature follows sex worker Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) as they set out to find Sin-Dee’s pimp boyfriend. Rodriguez and Taylor have spoken of the significant input they had in the writing process — specifically the dialogue — and Tangerine has been praised for its authentic representation of trans women of color.
9. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
If you haven’t seen this Cannes hit yet, what rock have you been hiding under? Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a must-see. Céline Sciamma’s aching, raw tale of artistry, muses, and the heartbreaking reality of the secrecy required of gay people throughout history leaves a lasting impression. It’s an emotional powerhouse that’s thoughtful and bold, and a great opportunity to dip your toes into French cinema.
Lovesong is basically about jumping on a train you know is destined to crash, staying on it anyway, and wanting the tranquil atmosphere and quiet of the journey to never end. Mindy (Jena Malone) and Sarah (Riley Keough) enter and leave each other’s lives intermittently, but always leave a piece of themselves behind. Time, its passing, and the regret of words left unspoken are at the heart of this breathtaking account of love unbroken by distance — director So Yong Kim should be giving classes on how to best execute bittersweet heartache.
“Some of them say that we’re sick, we’re crazy. And some of them think that we are the most gorgeous, special things on Earth.” – Venus Xtravaganza