Photo by Ahri Vi
It’s that time of year again, so you know what that means: the same queer movies are going to be recommended to you. You’re in luck though, because I’m here to break that cycle. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of the more popular queer movies, but it’s a bit frustrating to try to find new queer movies and still be faced with the popular ones like Call Me By Your Name, Carol, Moonlight, The Birdcage, or God forbid, Love, Simon. There is a bigger variety of movies that focus on queer individuals, and many hidden gems, some of which I discuss here.
This is nowhere near the definitive list of queer movies; I am still quite unfamiliar with films about non-binary characters or about people on the asexual spectrum. I am a humble movie enjoyer, but due to my own personal journey with my sexuality, I have only felt comfortable really diving into queer movies within the past couple of years. Despite this, I did look for a diverse list of movies that I feel are pretty underappreciated.
Without further ado, here are 5 LGBTQ+ movies to watch this Pride Month:
Saving Face (2004) – dir. Alice Wu
We’re starting off strong with what has quickly become one of my new favorites. Saving Face follows Wil, a Chinese-American doctor, who is tasked with taking care of her mother after Wil’s grandfather kicks her out. Wil’s mother was kicked out because she is unmarried and pregnant, but refuses to say who the father is. If that wasn’t enough, Wil has to juggle her career while also developing a relationship with Vivian, Wil’s boss’s daughter. This film focuses mainly on the mother-daughter relationship, however, Wil’s lesbian identity is an integral part of the story.
I feel like many sapphics of color can relate to this movie, as it deals with misogyny, cultural values, the importance (and sometimes hindrance) of your community, and of course, homophobia in ethnic communities. Despite these topics seeming heavy, this movie is lighthearted for the most part, if not occasionally feeling like a personal attack towards me, a sapphic of color. Also, this movie has not one, but two plot twists that made me pause and recontextualize the film.
Maurice (1987) – dir. James Ivory
This film is an older yet refreshing film. Maurice is set in pre-World War I England and is about the titular protagonist and his journey of discovering his sexuality. He has a relationship with his friend Clive until Clive breaks things off in order to live up to societal expectations. Now, Maurice must decide whether or not he wants to follow Clive’s example, or if he can live life as a recognized gay man without the privilege his status gives him. Clive’s groundskeeper Alec is also not making things easy for Maurice, either.
I’m going to admit that I am very biased toward this movie. It is one of my favorites, and it is admittedly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea because it is a long, British period piece. However this movie is visually stunning, and its score is definitely in my Top 10 List of Movie Scores. It’s directed by the same man who wrote the screenplay for Call Me By Your Name, so if you like that film, you’ll more than likely enjoy this one!
Rafiki (2018) – dir. Wanuri Kahiu
Now, this film has a very interesting story, both within and outside the screen. Rafiki follows Kena and Ziki, two Kenyan girls whose fathers are competing against each other in their local election. Their relationship develops as they try to hide it from their conservative neighborhood. This movie deals a lot with homophobia and how religion plays a role in it. While the movie is bright and colorful for the most part, it is a showcase of how queer people live in countries where homosexuality is illegal. It also deals with misogyny and classism, as Kena is from a working-class family while Ziki is from a middle-class one. There is a scene of violence towards the end, though the movie does have a happy, ambiguous ending. The director Wanuri Kahiu is also set to direct the movie adaptation of the musical Once on This Island, and if Rafiki is anything to go by, then I am really excited for it.
Lingua Franca (2019) – dir. Isabel Sandoval
Fair warning, this movie is not a feel-good one. Lingua Franca follows Olivia, a Filipina transgender woman who works in New York as a caretaker for Olga, a Russian immigrant with dementia. Olivia is struggling to get her green card as the man she was paying to marry ends their deal. Then comes Alex, Olga’s grandson who’s fresh out of rehab. They begin a romantic relationship, however, Alex struggles with sobriety while Olivia struggles to tell Alex about her trans identity.
I have to admit, out of all the films on this list, this is the one I questioned recommending due to the heavier tone. On the one hand, it is a movie starring and directed by an actual Filipina transwoman, and it has great commentary on the reality of Trump-era immigration. On the other hand, there are instances of the t-slur used, and the relationship between Olivia and Alex crosses some ethical lines as Alex is technically Olivia’s boss. The movie doesn’t end in the traditional way, but its ending feels more realistic and natural. This was actually one of the first Filipino-directed films I’ve seen, and it has made me much more interested in Filipino movies. I hope to see more of Isabel Sandoval’s works, as I truly believe she is a very talented director and actress.
Pride (2014) – dir. Matthew Warchus
Yes, the movie is called Pride, and is well known in England, but I have a feeling that many American queer people may not have heard of it. Pride is based on the true events of the unlikely bond between Welsh miners and British gays and lesbians in the 80s. After seeing that both groups are suffering under the hand of Margaret Thatcher and the British government, Mark Ashton forms Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners in order to raise money during the Miner’s Strike.
This film highlights that queerness and Pride have always been political movements and that in order to truly be an activist, you must advocate for everyone, not just your own personal cause. This movie is of course a dramatized version of events, so it isn’t exactly 100% accurate, and it is a movie from the early 2010s so there are questionable decisions made (specifically having a white woman in cornrows for no apparent reason), but it’s a fun time. Side note, if you’re a fan of Fleabag, the hot priest is in it!
While I would love to write about every queer movie I would highly recommend, I don’t want to take up too much time. The queer community is diverse, and there are countless stories for us to share. We are now seeing a wave of up-and-coming queer writers, directors, and actors creating and starring in new and refreshing queer movies and television shows. You don’t have to like all of them (I definitely don’t) but we at the very least should support those that are actually coming from our community.
With all the love, happy Pride!