Pride is upon us once again, and that means it’s time for rainbow flags (and rainbow ads), flings, flounces, firm reminders that the first Pride was a riot and that the fight for queer liberation continues today, and finally, films. Already watched Fire Island and want to know what’s next? Here are 16 suggestions for your Pride Month watch list.
Paris Is Burning (1991)
Paris Is Burning (directed by Jennie Livingston) documents New York City’s ballroom scene during the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the Black and Latine gay and trans ball walkers, queens, and forged families at its heart. Its exploration of gender, sexuality, race, and class has made it a classroom staple, but those featured were living and discussing those intersections long before people with more privilege got interested—a fact that’s led to contention about the pittance of payment those in the movie received. Watch for the dazzling drag performances, and for a shining display of the debt that wider culture owes Black and brown trans and queer people.
late bloomers (1996)
This sweet coming-of-age-in-middle-age movie, directed by Julia Dyer and written by her sister Gretchen Dyer, follows math teacher Dinah (Connie Nelson) and secretary Carly (Dee Hennigan), who unexpectedly fall in love over basketball lessons while working at the same Texas high school. Their romance tears their small town asunder as Carly scandalously leaves her husband and both women are fired. This subtly Wes Anderson-esque romance is also a powerful story of familial and community love—with a big, gay wedding as the cherry on top.
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
A major contributor to Natasha Lyonne’s legacy as a “straight gay icon,” and an essential part of queer canon, But I’m a Cheerleader (directed by Jamie Babbit and written by Babbit and Brian Peterson) is a slightly surreal story set in a pastel-hued gay conversion camp. Megan (Lyonne), a high school cheerleader, is sent to the camp when her parents become suspicious of her passion for vegetarianism and Melissa Etheridge—only to find herself falling in love while she’s there. But I’m a Cheerleader is a charming and affirming story of family found under duress, with a premise that unfortunately still feels topical today.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Maybe Brokeback has become something of a cliché since its record-breaking premiere—but should that stop you from experiencing this piece of cinematic history, and getting a good, gay cry going to boot? Absolutely not. Based upon the short story of the same name from Annie Proulx’s collection Short Range, Brokeback Mountain follows would-be cowboys Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) across decades of their increasingly tragic lives. It’s as stunning now as it was when it was made, thanks to masterful performances from all involved, as well as Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning direction.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Initially a flop due to a misguided ad campaign attempting to cater a movie about the all-consuming inferno of female “friendship,” mysticism-tinted misogyny, and cannibalizing your friend’s whiny boyfriend to an audience of teenage boys, Jennifer’s Body has become a sapphic cult classic. Starring Amanda Seyfried as the beleaguered Needy, and Megan Fox as the titular Jennifer—and written by the incomparable Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama—Jennifer’s Body is a vital entry on any Pride watchlist.
Written and directed by Dee Rees and starring Adepero Oduye as 17-year-old Alike, pariah is a masterpiece that captures the sweetness and pain of both self-discovery and self-determination. Alike lives a double life, dressing femininely at home under her mother Audrey’s (Kim Wayans) watchful, at-times wrathful eye, and exploring masculine presentation and Black lesbian culture at the clubs she visits with her friend Laura (Pernell Walker). When Alike starts spending time with Bina (Aasha Davis), a girl from church, at her mother’s insistence, she discovers they have more in common than expected. Featuring a nuanced family dynamic—including an arresting performance by Charles Parnell as Alike’s father Arthur—and the show-stopping line, “I’m not running, I’m choosing,” pariah is an essential part of queer cinematic canon.
The Way He Looks (2014)
This sun-dappled Brazilian romance written and directed by Daniel Ribeiro follows Leo (Ghilherme Lobo) and Gabriel (Fábio Audi), teenagers navigating the sweet awkwardness of first love. Leo, who is blind, usually walks home from school with his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim). When Gabriel moves to town and begins accompanying them, romance blossoms. With movies and TV rarely telling the stories of disabled people, The Way He Looks is a meaningful moment of representation, though it’s always worth noting that disabled actors play disabled characters best. Endearing and big-hearted, this adorable movie gets bonus points for introducing this list writer to Belle & Sebastian.
Tangerine is an incandescent dramatic comedy centered on Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a trans sex worker who enlists her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) to help her track down her cheating boyfriend. Tangerine received mixed reception from trans critics of color, with some finding it authentic and invigoratingand others disappointed with its reliance on trauma. The movie, directed by Sean Baker and written by Baker and Chris Bergoch, is noteworthy for its portrayal of trans characters by trans actors—still, unfortunately, a rarity—and for being shot entirely on a cell phone.
As visually striking as it is heartbreaking, moonlight follows protagonist Chiron, played by Travante Rhodes as an adult, Ashton Sanders as a teen, and Alex Hibbert as a child, through three stages of his life—as a young boy and teenager in Miami, and then as an adult in Atlanta. Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, moonlight is the first LGBTQ film with an all-Black cast to win Best Picture, and a nuanced and compassionate exploration of sexuality, masculinity, identity, and addiction. If you somehow haven’t seen it yet, this Pride is the time.
The Handmaiden (2016)
The Handmaiden is first and foremost a supremely unnerving psychological thriller in three parts about forced marriage, sexual exploitation, and a very long con. Set (mostly) in 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea, the movie is written and directed by Park Chan-wook. The fact that it’s also a gay love story between Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and her handmaiden Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) —albeit one that’s both sexy and kind of gross, received by some as self-referentially playful and others as “disappointingly boilerplate”—is just gravy.
Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) are daughters of political rivals who fall in unexpected, ill-advised, vibrant love. rafiki brilliantly showcases both the peril of gay love in Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal, and the vivid, uncontainable joy of a star-crossed, whirlwind romance. Directed by Wanuri Kahiu, written by Jenna Cato Bass and Kahiu, and inspired by the Caine Prize-winning short story “Jambula Tree” by Monica Arac de Nyeko, rafiki was initially banned for release in Kenya before Kahiu sued for and won a weeklong theatrical release on the basis of free speech.
Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen (2020)
Transgender actors, writers, and creatives share their experiences in Hollywood across eras of marginalization and triumph, and track the societal impact of their work. Directed and produced by Sam Feder (along with Amy Scholder) and featuring artists like Laverne Cox (also an executive producer), Lilly Wachowski, and Chaz Bono, Disclosure is a landmark exploration of trans representation—and misrepresentation—on and off screen. In a time of legislation targeting trans people, and especially trans kids, it’s an important snapshot of cultural attitudes, and one of many reminders of how far we have to go.
If the first 20 minutes of kajillionaire are among the bleakest things you’ve seen, the rest is an increasingly gorgeous and colorful romp about discovering you have the power to decide who you will become, breaking cycles of generational trauma, and the healing force of love—especially gay love with Gina Rodriguez-LoCicero. Written and directed by the inimitable Miranda July and starring Evan Rachel Wood opposite Rodriguez-LoCicero as Old Dolio, depressed daughter of LA’s least successful con artists, this film is flight of whimsy with more than enough heart to keep it grounded.
Flee is an animated docudrama directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen and written by Rasmussen and Amin Nawabi (a pseudonym), telling the true story of Nawabi’s journey as a young refugee from Afghanistan to Denmark. As he prepares to marry his longtime boyfriend, Nawabi finds himself preoccupied with painful memories of a complex past he’s become accustomed to keeping to himself. Nawabi told NPR he hoped Flee would showcase the human reality behind the refugee experience of being forced to leave the only home you’ve ever known.
Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)
If you somehow haven’t already seen Daniels’ mind-bending blockbuster Everything Everywhere All At Once, starring Michelle Yeoh and Stephanie Hsu as a heartbreakingly real multiverse-hopping mother-daughter duo, consider this a sign. Pride Month is the perfect time to enjoy this parable about the singularity-causing consequences of not accepting your gay child. Also featured: stellar performances from Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, and Jamie Lee Curtis, plus maximalist fashion, familial love, and the breathtaking beauty of mundanity.
crush is a sapphic delight—written by Kirsten King and Casey Rackham and directed by Sammi Cohen—that follows high-school romance tropes to a tee—and that’s what makes it so much fun. In a time of queer cinema that’s positively saturated with coming-out stories, crush is a breath of fresh, frothy air that says, “gimme a teen rom-com, but make it gay!” Awkward artist Paige (Rowan Blanchard) and inscrutably cool jock AJ (Auli’i Cravalho) must work together to catch a mysterious guerilla artist in this adorable triumph for sappy gays, people who had their first kiss on a school trip, decidedly unathletic people forced to play sports against their will, and, frankly, everyone else, too.
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