The Celluloid Closet (1995)
The Celluloid Closet, directed by Rob Epstein is a documentary made up of interviews with various people within the film industry in which they recount their experiences with the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters on screen. This film provides insight into stereotypes and tropes in Hollywood for queer characters, censorship and the implications of these depictions. The film is based on the book The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in Movies, written by Vito Russo. Although some parts are a bit outdated, this film is interesting for anyone interested in cinema and wants to understand how certain character portrayals in film can be harmful.
Tongues Untied (1989)
Tongues Untied, directed by Marlon Riggs, documents black gay identity using a mix of documentary footage, personal experience and poetry. The film specifically focuses on black gay men, who are often left out gay narratives and communities. Failing to understand the intersections of race and sexuality, the white gay world becomes a cruel one for black gay men, who are also outsiders within their own communities. Marlon Riggs beautifully captures his own experience as well as others’, bringing everything together to create a critique of society and politics. Tongues Untied challenges conformity and normativity in a way that has not been done before. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in new perspectives and films that create controversy just because they tell the truth.
Pariah, directed by Dee Rees, tells the story of Alike (played by Adepero Oduye), a 17-year-old Black girl from Brooklyn, New York who is coming to terms with her identity as a lesbian. Throughout the film, we watch her experience life as a teenager who is struggling to open up to her parents and explore her sexuality in a heteronormative world where everything seems to be against her. The film’s title: Pariah (meaning outcast), indicates how Alike feels during this time, echoing the feelings felt by many others in similar situations. In the film, Dee Rees is able to depict something different: an experience and world which aren’t traditionally addressed in cinema. It might make you cry but it ends on a hopeful note and is definitely worth watching.
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
The Watermelon Woman, directed by Cheryl Dunye, is a must watch for anyone who is queer or is interested in learning about things beyond the white heteronormative world (trust me, there’s a lot out there). The film stars Dunye herself who plays Cheryl, a black lesbian who is interested in documenting black lesbians. We follow Cheryl as she films and gathers information about an actress she sees in an old Hollywood film and presumes to be gay. Mixing reality and fiction, the film provides interesting insight into how history is told and documented in ways that are intertwined with privilege and power. Both the character Cheryl, and Cheryl Dunye herself are interested in telling their own stories and recounting their own histories.
Since its release, The Watermelon Woman has become a cult favorite and is regarded as an exemplar of New Queer Cinema, although it offers a perspective that is new even within the genre of queer films. Just watch it, it’s great.
Paris Is Burning (1990)
This is for the people who have not watched Paris is Burning yet: please watch this film!
Directed by Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning is a documentary film chronicling the ball culture of New York City in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It follows members of the ballroom scene, mixing interviews with footage from the balls themselves. The film
serves as a look into the world of ballroom where people who are omitted from rich, white society due to their position and lack of privilege are the ones who rule. Voices that have never been heard in cinema before are heard in Paris is Burning. We see that the ballroom scene, inextricably tied to African-American and Latin transgender, gay, queer individuals is not only a source of entertainment, but an act of resistance and a provider of family and community.