Pride Month this year looks a little different — because frankly, the world looks a little different. Instead of a giant parade to celebrate the LGBTQ community, the streets are filled with marches demanding justice and humanity for Black people. The population of the United States is separated by masks and 6-foot distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has proven deadly for at-risk folks and disproportionately common in the Black community. To add insult to injury, President Donald Trump recently reversed regulations that protected the rights of transgender people in the health care system.
It might not seem like a time to celebrate. It’s certainly not a time to become complacent; there is a vast amount of work to be done to end systemic racism and homophobia, particularly at the points where the two dangerously intersect.
But why not allow pain and joy, anger and celebration, to coexist? Pride originated as a riot led by queer people of color, including trans woman Marsha P. Johnson, and thus has its roots in the fight for change. Joy and resilience in and of themselves can be a form of protest or a political act — a refusal to be silenced, ignored and kept down. No, there isn’t going to be a big party for Pride this year, but there are other ways to celebrate: protesting for Black Lives Matter, advocating for social change, reflecting on what Pride means to you and watching these five powerful, complex queer TV shows and movies.
Netflix’s “Pose” is a unique, beautiful tribute to queer ball culture in 1980s New York City. The show stars Ryan Jamaal Swain as Damon Richards-Evangelista, a young, gay man who leaves his abusive suburban household to start over in the city as a dancer. Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, played by Mj Rodriguez, takes him into her home and introduces him to the world of drag, revealing the complex subplot storylines of Pray Tell (Billy Porter), Angel Evangelista (Indya Moore) and Elektra Wintour (Dominique Jackson), each of whom give stunning performances.
“Pose” showcases trans and queer characters portrayed by trans and queer actors. It is loud, celebratory, raw and emotional. “Pose” does not hold back from discussing issues surrounding sex reassignment surgery and AIDS, nor does it limit queer existence to these issues alone. “Pose” is, at its core, a celebration of people of color and queer identities, simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. And just in time for Pride month, Season 2 of “Pose” is now available on Netflix.
Perhaps the greatest mark of quality representation of marginalized people in popular culture is when their stories can be told without centering around their marginalization. Insert director Olivia Wilde’s 2019 film, “Booksmart.” It’s a high school party flick about two girls — Molly, played by Beanie Feldstein, and Amy, played by Kaitlyn Dever — who have just graduated but realize that they spent too much time studying and not enough time bonding with their classmates and letting loose. Dever’s character is queer, and “Booksmart” shows her comfortably having a crush on another girl and embracing her sexuality without apology or discomfort. Not only is “Booksmart” witty, fun, irreverent and well, smart, but it is absolutely worth the watch, during Pride Month or any time, because of its honest portrayal of a queer high school experience.
“Special,” which first aired on Netflix in April 2019, is unique in many ways, even for a show on a streaming platform that prides itself on being somewhat unconventional. Season 1 of “Special” features only eight episodes, each of which are about 15 minutes long. The semiautobiographical show stars Ryan O’Connell as Ryan Hayes, a gay man with cerebral palsy. The experience of LGBTQ individuals with disabilities is almost never portrayed on television, so combining this with the show’s true-to-life nature and sense of humor makes “Special” a great success.
Though the series portrays sad and difficult moments, it maintains a light tone throughout, and its protagonist is deeply lovable and relatable, despite at times being painfully (perhaps endearingly) awkward. “Special” is the kind of show that you’ll want to binge-watch this Pride Month, and if eight short episodes doesn’t seem like enough, you’re in luck: Netflix has already promised a second season.
Barry Jenkins’ award-winning film “Moonlight” might not be the first movie that comes to mind when you think about celebrating, but no list of LGBTQ movies would be complete without this cinematic masterpiece. “Moonlight” details the life of a young, queer, Black man in Miami through three different stages of his life: his childhood (portrayed by Alex Hibbert), his teenage years (portrayed by Ashton Sanders) and his adulthood (portrayed by Trevante Rhodes). During each stage, Chiron finds himself grappling with his identity in different ways, a journey familiar to LGBTQ viewers and anyone adjacent to the queer community. “Moonlight” is a powerful film that centers Black queerness at every turn, leaning into the struggles as well as the triumphs of its protagonist and creating a beautiful and complicated piece of art perfect for Pride Month viewing.
5. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”
Though it takes on an entirely different setting and subject matter, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” matches “Moonlight” in cinematic mastery and intensity. Think “Romeo and Juliet” but set in late 18th century France and featuring a lesbian romance. Céline Sciamma’s 2019 film, which is available on Hulu, tells the story of artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant), who is hired to paint the beautiful Lady Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a woman resisting an arranged marriage. With few supporting characters, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is dedicated to the slow-burn love story of the two women.
Where Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2013 film, “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” was criticized for fetishizing lesbian sex, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is by no means designed for the male gaze; the story of Marianne and Héloïse is told largely through long looks (after all, a painter must stare at her subject long enough to get a good feel for the dimensions of her face), as well as music and art. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” might leave you in tears, but it’s not a film you’ll want to miss this Pride Month.
Amidst the unrest that has characterized Pride Month this year, take the time to enjoy these five movies and TV shows, each of which is a unique and complex piece of queer art. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and best of all, you’ll have celebrated the LGBTQ community.