In recent years, LGBTQ+ representation in movies has gotten better but not significantly. The 2020 GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index found that 22 out of the 118 films (18.6%) released by major studios in 2019 contained LGBTQ+ characters, a very slight increase from the previous year’s report. Still, representation increased only for white, gay men; lesbian representation decreased from 55% to 36%, and racial diversity of LGBTQ+ characters decreased from 42% to 34%.
LGBTQ+ representation in media is incredibly important, and we still have a long way to go before people will be satisfied. There’s still not enough LGBTQ+ representation in terms of quantity, and when it comes to quality representation in movies, it gets even more sparse.
Many films with LGBTQ+ characters that have been released in recent years fail to actually do any good for the LGBTQ+ community. Although they still technically count as representation, LGBTQ+ characters are frequently reduced to exemplifying harmful stereotypes, becoming the subjects of thinly veiled homophobic jokes or being ridiculously minuscule characters with almost no relevance to the movie’s plot.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it can be difficult to find LGBTQ+ movies that actually portray LGBTQ+ experiences and characters accurately and free from stereotypes. You might think you’ve finally discovered an amazing movie with a great LGBTQ+ character only to be disappointed once you watch it and realize it simply reuses the same tired tropes that have plagued LGBTQ+ representation for years.
Still, there are some great movies that feature prominent, well-developed LGBTQ+ characters whose sexualities remain important to their stories without being fetishized or reduced to stereotypes. It can be frustrating to find them on your own, so to help you out, here’s a list of some LGBTQ+ movies that are my personal favorites.
The first movie on this list is probably one of the better-known LGBTQ+ movies I’m including. After it was released, “Moonlight” won over 200 awards, including the Academy Award for best picture in 2017, making it the first LGBTQ+ related film to win such an honor.
“Moonlight” is about the life of the main character, Chiron, as he grows up in Miami, Florida. The movie is separated into three stages of Chiron’s life, depicting him as a child, a teenager and a young adult. Throughout the three parts, Chiron struggles to come to terms with his sexuality, masculinity and identity as a gay, Black man.
In addition to the themes of race, masculinity and sexuality, “Moonlight” includes scenes that address homophobia in a brutally honest way, which makes it difficult to watch at some points. The slightly ambiguous ending could be unsatisfying for some people, but in my opinion, it works well with the way the rest of the movie’s story is told. The movie is about Chiron’s life and growth as a person, and he’s still very much in the process of understanding himself at the end, so it wouldn’t make sense if everything wrapped up neatly. All in all, “Moonlight” is an incredible coming-of-age movie that represents a big step toward LGBTQ+ movies receiving the critical recognition they deserve.
2. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”
The movie came out in 2019, and I finally watched it recently after months of seeing people rave about it on TikTok. After experiencing it for myself, I definitely share the sentiments of the movie’s growing number of fans.
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a romantic drama that takes place in France in the late 18th century. The story follows Marianne, an artist who is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman, and Héloïse, Marianne’s subject who doesn’t want to be married and has refused to pose for previous artists. Marianne is asked to paint Héloïse secretly, so she acts as her walking companion during the day and attempts to paint her from memory at night. As Marianne and Héloïse spend more time together, they become very close, and their relationship slowly becomes more intimate and romantic.
There are a lot of things to love about “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” The movie is shot beautifully, and the slow burn romance between Marianne and Héloïse moves at a great pace and feels believable. Since it includes almost no male characters and is directed by Céline Sciamma, who is a lesbian herself, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” successfully does what many LGBTQ+ movies featuring lesbian romances do not: It subverts the male gaze, making it a refreshing portrayal of a lesbian relationship that doesn’t feel forced or fetishized.
So far, both movies on the list have been emotional, moving dramas with somewhat bittersweet endings — which is great if that’s what you’re looking for — but if not, “Booksmart” is another one of my favorite LGBTQ+ movies that’s much more lighthearted.
“Booksmart” is a coming-of-age comedy about two teenage best friends, Amy and Molly, who are determined to experience as much of the stereotypical, fun high school partying they can in one night before they graduate. One of my favorite things about the movie is that despite being a teenage coming-of-age story about a gay character, “Booksmart” is not a coming out story. Amy is already out, and the first few scenes of the movie make her sexuality clear as she and Molly discuss lesbian sex and Amy’s crush on a girl named Ryan.
I don’t have anything against coming out stories. If they’re done well, I enjoy them and relate to them as much as the next gay person. But it’s rare to find an LGBTQ+ movie that fits into the coming-of-age genre and isn’t about a character discovering their sexuality and eventually coming out.
Amy’s sexuality is still an incredibly important part of her character and the story, but we don’t see her having to deal with the stress and trauma of homophobic peers or unaccepting family members. Stories about those aspects of the LGBTQ+ experience are obviously important to portray as well, but “Booksmart” gives us a happier, more carefree rendition of a lesbian character that is a nice change of pace from the typical coming out story.
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