(Credit: Netflix)

Celebrate Pride with the 20 greatest LGBTQ+ films so far

“My lover is a woman, and when I hold her, feel her warmth, I feel good.” – Pat Parker

Sexual offenders roam about scot-free while an innocent same-sex kiss between two lovers causes a huge uproar, intervention and uncalled for violence. Welcome to our world where heteronormativity is internalised and systemic homophobia encouraged. Violence perpetrated against the members of the LGBTQ+ communities are atrocious; they are victims of prejudices and inhibitions that are often state-sanctioned violence or at times the result of religious outrage. The paranoia of homosexuality being the Other, along with the oppressive ideas influenced by macho culture and social regression, motivates the inherently heteronormative society to lash out against the marginalised for no fault of their own. 

From Stonewall Riots to violence led by right-wing propagandists, June had been declared as the Pride Month to celebrate love in its most honest and raw format. Decked in colourful clothing, all over the world, people march on the streets, flaunting their rainbow flags, stunning posters, gay and proud. It is a beautiful expression of love and freedom where one is free to love whomever and however they wish to, without fearing judgement, ostracisation, oppression and assault. 

Hollywood has always tried to be at par with international cinema to show their support and acceptance for homosexual relationships. While they have upped their game considerably, the fight is long and arduous. The Academy, which is still radical, orthodox and oppressive, has still not been forgiven for awarding the Best Picture award to a far inferior film such as Crash when a strong contender such as Brokeback Mountain had already been taken into consideration. Brokeback Mountain’s loss was, however, a monumental moment in Hollywood, as people slowly became more aware of the existing prejudices within the Academy. 

The history of Pride dates back ages and one can never learn enough about it. From reading queer poetry to watching queer cinema and trying to get in touch with the LGBTQ+ community to unlearn past misgivings and know more about their struggle, one can find themselves begin to slowly understand the historicity of Pride. Watching films is a great way of witnessing nonconformity as films often mirror society and bring forth stories of the marginalised and the silenced.

To celebrate Pride month, we have handpicked 20 best LGBTQ+ films of all time to give you an understanding of how films changed over the years with the change in people’s approach towards homosexuality, as people gradually tried to be more accepting and less orthodox. 

The 20 greatest LGBTQ+ films:

20. Je, tu, il, elle (Chantal Akerman, 1974)

The film focuses on a young, lonely woman named Julie, who is busying herself after a breakup by rearranging the furniture in her room, relaxing naked, writing letters to her lover or gorging on powdered sugar. One day, she leaves the confined space and goes hitch-hiking with a man. The duo makes several stops at a bar, a restaurant and eventually at a restroom before Julie goes to a woman’s place who makes her a sandwich when she is hungry yet tells her she cannot stay. After indulging in sex, Julie leaves her house the following morning. 

The film is shot on a monochromatic palette. Julie is “je”, Akerman’s script is “tu”, the truck driver who gives Julie a lift, seeking sexual pleasures and talking about his household, is “il” while her lover is “Elle”. The film is one of Akerman’s more radical and experimental films which is obsessive and the quietude of the characters make the audience restless for a reaction. The filmmaker uses nudity to her advantage to help the characters search for their identities; it is almost as if the filmmaker herself is in the discovery of her own identity and sexuality. The film is nearly surreal, naked and honest with beautiful frames that hold some of the earliest known on-screen lesbian sex.  

“I got up and looked at myself. I took off my sweater to get a better view. After that, I stripped and looked at myself.” 

19. Different from the Others (Richard Oswald, 1919)

A gay violinist, Paul Korner falls head-over-heels in love with his protege, Kurt Sivers. However, in 1919 German society, homosexuality is taboo and as soon as they are caught holding hands in public by Franz Bollek, a cruel extortionist, who threatens to expose their relationship; in exchange for money, he swears secrecy. However, his demands start getting impossible which prompts Korner to take him to court but ends up killing himself as it the sole “honourable” act for a homosexual to engage in. 

A rebellion against the unjust Paragraph 175 in the German Book of Law, the film offers a sympathetic approach to the atrocities meted out against homosexuals. The film was released in a relatively more tolerable post-World War I Germany which complemented by fitting music and wonderful performances. However, in the 1920s, German censorship destroyed all film prints. The film shows how heteronormative society paves the path for homosexual suicide as an act of redemption, giving an intimate insight into the emotions involving loss, love, separation, tragedy and sexuality. 

“Respected ladies and gentlemen take heed. The time will come when such tragedies will be no more. For knowledge will conquer prejudice, truth will conquer lies, and love will triumph over hatred.”

18. Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011)

Alike is a Black teenager who manages to come to terms with her sexuality and realise that she is a butch lesbian, comfortable in baggy clothing and men’s underwear, after befriending Laura who is openly a lesbian. Alike’s mother, Audrey, is a conventional, orthodox woman who does not approve of this friendship and gets Alike to associate with a church girl named Bina with whom Alike gets intimate. Bina, however, break’s Alike’s heart by dismissing their encounter as something experimental and urges Alike to not tell anyone about them. After Alike comes out to her parents, her mother reacts in a violent manner prompting Alike to leave home and forge her own path towards her destiny. 

With a dysfunctional family in the backdrop where the parents are constantly bickering, Alike’s coming out story is steeped in bitter-sweet tenderness and authenticity. The film hits hard as Alike tells her father how she is not “running” but “choosing” to move away and find her way in the world. It is powerful and hard-hitting, one of Rees’ finest. The rush of adrenaline one feels to see Alike finally discovering herself is unimaginable; it is equally heartbreaking to see the girl feel broken after the intensity of emotions is nullified by Bina. It stresses platonic friendships as well as lesbianism and puts forward a strong message laced with turmoil, emotions and self-discovery. 

“Heartbreak opens onto the sunrise for even breaking is opening and I am broken, I am open. Broken into the new life without pushing in, open to the possibilities within, pushing out.”

17. Boy Erased (Joel Edgarton, 2018)

Jared Eamons is the son of an Arkansas Baptist preacher who is committed to a conversion therapy programme named Love in Action where questionable methods are put to use to “correct” the sexuality of men from being gay to straight. Jared, who is attracted to men, had a traumatic experience in college where a man named Henry sexually assaulted him. His father sends him to the conversion programme hoping to see his son get rid of the phase but his supportive mother follows him to Tennessee. Jared befriends a boy named Cameron who is humiliated for failing an exercise. Cameron helps Jared escape and his mother is enraged over how his father sent him to conversion therapy without having conducted background research regarding their oppressive means. Jared’s hatred for his father slowly simmers. 

The film is complex and demand’s audience empathy while shocking them with the realities of so-called conversion therapies. The film attempts to re-emphasize how sexuality is not just a phase. The filmmaker manages to carefully weave out a family story torn apart by religious prejudices, homophobia and violence. It is distressing to see how far internalised homophobia can take one so as to even send his own son away despite the physically and psychologically dangerous methodology being put to use. 

“I’m gay, and I’m your son. And neither of those things are going to change. Okay? So let’s deal with that!”

16. Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)

Russell is a reserved man who has not yet come out to his family and thus holds himself back. He meets the carefree art student Glen at a gay bar and they end up having a one-night stand following which Russell records his experience with Glen on Glen’s recorder for the latter’s project. Their one-night stand culminates in them finding purpose in one another and hanging out more. Russell even joins Glen’s farewell party at a club. They spend time with one another, having wholesome conversations about themselves, their lives, insecurities and more before saying goodbye. 

The film is based on an ordinary setting with a simplistic story which makes it perfect. It organically builds up a relationship of sorts, between two men who cannot get enough of each other despite the one-night stand and end up engaging in perceptive, dialogic conversations laced with knowledge, wit and humour. It is a wonderful commentary on modern sexuality and the film is shot in a slow, casual manner to add a sense of relatability and familiarity to it, to see the two actors find themselves in each other adds a naturalistic and heartfelt value to the film currency. It is blatant and simple; exactly what modern-day romance looks like. 

“Look, straight people like us as long as we conform, behave by their little rules. Imagine your friends, if you suddenly started getting all really political about being a fag or you got suddenly like camp or swishy or talked about rimming all the time.”

15. Un chant d’amour (Jean Genet, 1950)

Only 26 minutes long, the film was Jean Genet, the French writer’s only film which was banned due to the explicit sexual content. The film revolves around a voyeuristic prison guard who derives immense pleasure from witnessing prisoners engage in masturbation. The older Algerian man in one cell is madly in love with the younger convict and they share a smoke via straws. The prison guard is jealous of this budding relationship, beats the older man to a pulp and makes him perform fellatio on a gun. The guard, however, cannot use his power to condemn the older man from drifting into a land of fantasy where he roams free with his beloved. 

The director brings power play into account against a backdrop of unconsummated love and homosexuality. The film has no dialogue and abounds in close-ups of various body parts, including armpits, penises and faces, which adds a touch of intimacy and rawness to the film. The film portrays unrequited passion and is nearly groundbreaking in its sensual portrayal of homosexuality. A blistering commentary on sex, violence and power, even the sharing of smoke via the straw is intimate, beautiful and poignant; not even the guard’s power and oppression can take away the burning desire within the two inmates. 

14. Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti, 2018)

Simon is a closeted gay high school student who uses the alias Jacques to communicate with another closeted gay high schooler under the alias Blue. However, their romance is jeopardised when Martin discovers their emails, followed by the entire school. Simon is petrified of being a pariah and his inhibitions begin to affect his relationships. Hurt, Blue ceases contact with him. However, the school carnival ushers in a ray of hope and change Simon’s life as he discovers who Blue is. 

Tender and happy, this film has a feel-good factor, devoid of cliches, with accepting friends and parents. It is rare to see such a supportive backdrop to a film that deals with gay relationships. Warm and engaging, the film deals with the fear of coming out and the fear of becoming an outcast due to one’s sexuality. With the unravelling of the mysterious Blue’s identity, this adorable coming-of-age film warms our hearts and unpacks teenage romance. 

“Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on a Ferris wheel. One minute I’m on top of the world. In the next, I’m in rock bottom.”

13. Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)

The film focuses on the life of a tightly wound French teenager, Adele, who discovers non-conformity, desire and love when an aspiring painter with unique ideas, Emma, saunters into her life. The story traces the development of a beautiful lesbian relationship coupled with love, longing and loss, spanning Adele’s high school years to adult life and career. 

Raw, feverish and brutally honest, the film deals with themes of homosexuality and class difference. Emma’s middle-class artistic family is interested in art and music, aware of their lesbian relationship while Adele’s conservative working-class family thinks they are just friends. They discuss social, political and realistic problems. It is interesting to perceive lesbianism via the male directorial gaze. A powerful story that is laden with complexities of the human psyche, emotions, sexuality and the concept of ‘having loved and lost’, the narrative is complemented by brilliant imagery, colours, motifs and incredible performances. 

“I miss you. I miss not touching each other. Not seeing each other, not breathing in each other. I want you. All the time. No one else.”

12. Matthias and Maxime (Xavier Dolan, 2019)

Childhood friends, Matthias and Maxime are confident of their sexual orientation. However, when they kiss each other on camera for a short film project, they are confused and conflicted over their emotions which leads them to question their orientation. Their shared understanding of being attracted to women crumbles down and the friendship further complicates due to their growing undeniable attraction and desire for one another. 

Actor and director Xavier Dolan directs yet another complicated arthouse film where the dynamics of a friendship and subsequent interpersonal relationships are affected by a simple kiss. In this convoluted saga of denial and doubt heightened by a burning passion for one another, one of the many heart-rendering moments in the film includes Maxime stumbling upon a drawing of him and Matthias living on a farm. Dolan’s poignant yet enchanting tale is neatly crafted and well-framed, complemented by subtle, calculated silences which seems to add in the distance of a lifetime between the duo. 

“What will you do there?”

“I don’t know. Start over.”

11. My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991) 

Mike is a male sex worker who lives on the streets. He befriends Scott Favor who belongs to a wealthy background and wants to rebel against his family by engaging in the sex trade. Together, they survive the mean streets and Scott takes care of Mike during his bouts of narcolepsy as the latter can fall asleep anywhere and needs help. Mike wants to look for his biological mother and travels with Scott. During this journey, he falls in love with Scott who rebuffs his advances, falling in love with an English teacher in Italy and moving back to the United States, leaving a broken-hearted Mike alone to nurse himself. 

With symbolic imagery and incredible characters with unimaginable depth, this is one of Van Sant’s finest films. The film explores the evolution of a friendship that sees unrequited love and palpable sexual tension with a backdrop of the seedy sex-trade world, harrowing and traumatic past events and narcolepsy. River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves are reckless, beautiful and simply amazing. The film is bold and sad at the same time, losing its way n surrealism before coming back to reality, exposing isolation and unrequited passion. The film transcends all LGBTQ+ film cliches and weaves a new experience that shall haunt the viewers long after the credits stop rolling. 

“Well, I don’t know. I mean… I mean, for me, I could love someone even if I, you know, wasn’t paid for it… I love you, and… you don’t pay me.”

10. Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)

Constantly bickering among themselves, gay couple Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-Fai visit Buenos Aires to escape their mundane life in Hong Kong, hoping to rejuvenate their love. However, they soon understand that their relationship is extremely toxic as they are caught in the cyclic web of making up and breaking up. Soon they decide to part ways and take up individual professions to support themselves in Argentina as well as earn enough money to fly back home. Fai ends up befriending a Chinese man named Chang who shows him the futility of his relationship with the promiscuous Ho. Chang is on his way towards finding purpose and abandons Lai. Lai and Ho soon realise that their desperation and loneliness force them to indulge in various sexual encounters to fill the emptiness. 

Wong Kar-wai is known for his excellent commentary on love, loneliness, relationships and the daily drudgery of life. Brilliant cinematography and acting skills add to the charm of the film with the political climate of Hong Kong looming large over the film which is set in Buenos Aires. The characters have a painful and harrowing relationship that is laced with desire, longing, hatred and emotional abuse. The pathetic amounts of longing and regret in the film emphasise the loneliness that lays hidden in the human heart where sex becomes the only way of fulfilling it. The film questions masculinity, delving into the complexities of the human psyche as two gay individuals try to find their way back home. Wong Kar-wai, however, does not want his film to be labelled as a “gay film”.

“It’s more like a story about human relationships and somehow the two characters involved are both men,” he said. “Normally I hate movies with labels like ‘gay film,’ ‘art film’ or ‘commercial film.’ There is only good film and bad film.”

“Damn right I do. I had no regrets until I met you. Now my regrets could kill me.”

9. Rafiki (Wanuri Kahiu, 2018) 

The film revolves around Ziki and Kena who live in Nairobi. As their fathers contest the election, the two cross paths and soon are hopelessly attracted to one another despite being aware of the negative impact of their “forbidden” desire as well as how the gossip it would fan could destroy each other. They keep finding ways to fall into each other’s arms, loving each other as fiercely as society tries to make them part ways. 

The film’s title means ‘friend’ in Swahili which was chosen with a conscious intent of trying to put forward how same-sex couples introduce each other as a friend to keep suspicions at bay. With the socio-political climate in Kenya as well as their stance regarding LGBTQ+ rights as its backdrop, the film was banned “due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law”. The director refused to change the ending despite being requested to do so; the Kenyan film board feared that it would instil hopes in the minds of same-sex partners. Incredibly heartbreaking, the film captures how undying love and relentless desire triumphs the internalised homophobia plaguing Kenyan society.  

“You’re just a typical Kenyan girl.”

8. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)

In a picturesque northern Italy, nerdy and beautiful 17-year-old Elio meets the handsome and charming 24-year-old Oliver who is a student assistant to Elio’s father, a professor of archaeology. As the days go by, they start to get to know each other, and Elio grows increasingly attracted to Oliver, often losing control of his emotions. Although love blossoms and they share frenzied nights of passionate fervour, they are eventually confronted by the reality of uncertainty and longing. 

Beautiful and symbolic, and shot in peachy and vintage tones, the film boasts of splendid on-screen chemistry shared by Timothee Chalamet as Eliot and Arie Hammer as Oliver. They deliver their dialogues with unbelievable depth and passion. Despite the lack of nudity in the film; the beauty lies in the idea of desire, love, longing and eventual separation. Their summer tryst ends when Oliver says, “I remember everything” while informing Elio of his engagement. It is a story of every first love ever, with a twist; a perfect blend of melancholy, nature, love, heartbreak and touching performances, Call Me By Your Name is a work of art. 

“You’re too smart not to know how rare, how special what you two had was.”

7. Show Me Love (Lukas Moodysson, 1998)

Agnes is a reclusive and introverted girl who harbours a massive crush on the popular, outgoing Elin who is unhappy, trapped in the small town of Amal. after nobody shows up at her birthday party, Agnes is depressed but soon feels better when Elin kisses her as a part of a dare; quickly, she is crestfallen to see the latter rush out of the house. Elin feels bad about the way she treated Agnes, rushes back in time to prevent her from cutting herself and they decide to hitchhike to Stockholm to lead happy and free lives. Elin’s growing attraction to Agnes causes her to freak out and avoid the latter and even get into a relationship, yet it is a feeling she cannot avoid. 

The film is beautiful. It is one of the most tender and delicate lesbian films which trace the journey of two teenage girls who try to discover their sexuality and redefine their identities. The isolated small town, the prejudices and the inexperience, as well as the simple task of brewing chocolate milk, add subtle beauty to the film. The actors do a brilliant job of portraying the first stirrings of young love and the film is wholesome and pretty.

“Is it true you’re a lesbian? If you are I understand, ’cause guys are so gross. I’m also going to be one, I think.”

6. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) 

The film revolves around the stages of growth in the lives of Chiron- childhood, adolescence and adulthood. As the African-American boy tries to survive in the world, grappling with issues including sexuality, identity, abuse and more, the advice of drug dealer Juan functions as a guiding force and helps him get by.  

Mellow and compassionate in its handling of the crisis of identity and sexuality in a lonely world, Moonlight is a fluid and seductive take on the intersection of blackness, queerness, vulnerability and masculinity. Somehow the experiences of Juan and Chiron find a common ground in being a black vulnerable man trying to seek his place in the world. The duality of existence, the possibility of being different from what one is perceived to be, is continuously highlighted in this raw and emotionally charged film. Moonlight avenged Brokeback Mountain’s surprising loss at the Academy Awards by being the first queer film to win an Oscar for Best Picture in 2017.  

“In moonlight, black boys look blue.”

5. My Beautiful Launderette (Stephen Frears, 1985)

Omar Ali is a young Pakistani man who lives in Britain during the Thatcher era. His father is a raging alcoholic whose left-leaning politics do not agree with Thatcher’s right-wing views. In comparison, Omar’s uncle Nasser is quite affluent and lets Omar take over his dilapidated launderette to turn into a profitable business. Omar convinces Johnny, a white punk, to help him with his business of renovating the launderette; the duo picks up from where they had left off in school by resuming a torrid romance. However, racism and the brewing of anti-immigration sentiments in England cause extremists to trash the launderette which forces the duo to reevaluate the cost of their lives, love and success. 

In his audacious commentary evoking Thatcherism, racism, anti-immigration and homosexuality, Frears documents the impact of the political scenario on the lives of the common people. Johnny and Omar, portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke respectively, engage in tender romance. The frames are brilliant and accentuate their relationship well. They bond over the launderette and the renovated launderette is a safe haven for them to escape from the daily drudgery and find solace and comfort in each other’s arms. They are strong yet flawed and fragile, vulnerable and passionate. The characters are all trying to find their purpose; only Omar and Johnny find it by falling in love with one another- the only thing that sustains them even amidst brutal assault.   

“In my experience, it’s always worth waiting for Omo.”

4. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)

Therese Belivet, an aspiring photographer, finds herself attracted to an older woman, named Carol Aird who is smart and resplendent. Carol is going through a messy divorce where her scheming husband Harge threatens to take complete custody of their daughter by exposing Carol’s latent lesbianism that would indicate her alleged incompetency. This stands as a barrier between the lovers from being together compelling Carol to make a courageous decision. 

The two women hail from very different backgrounds and find themselves haplessly in love with one another. Their helpless condition mirrors the prejudices of society. The emission from the Academy Awards led Rebekah Allen to state that “there are those who simply do not want to see a lesbian love story on-screen”, which reflects the modern-day heteronormative mentality and internalised homophobia. Forbidden love and undeniable desire for each other bring in their hearts defiance and resilience amidst all hostilities. Carol’s competence as a homosexual mother is questioned and her lesbianism is weaponised against her to no avail. Resonant performances by the talented cast, especially Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara adds beauty to the film’s aesthetic. 

“I don’t know what I want. How could I know what I want if I say yes to everything?”

3. Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2015)

The film revolves around the events of a single night on Christmas Eve in Hollywood where a transgender sex worker, Sin-Dee Rella, who has been freshly released from prison, finds out from her friend Alexandra that her boyfriend Chester has cheated on her with a female prostitute named Dinah. Enraged, Sin-Dee wants to find Chester and his new girl. Alexandra, Sin-Dee’s transgender friend, performs at a nearly empty bar. Right before that, she enamours an Armenian cab driver named Razmik who goes to have dinner with his family but comes back in search of Alexandra. Sin-Dee and Alexandra go through a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the night along with the other dysfunctional characters in the film. 

The film was shot using three iPhone 5S smartphones, shattering stereotypes regarding cinematography as well as casting by having transgender characters onboard. It is a raw and honest portrayal of the lives of the transgender community and the atrocities meted out to them on a daily basis in form of transphobic slurs. The film reeks of friendships and betrayal, crystal meth, the seedy sex-trade subculture and the crumbling idea of love. The quietest moments speak volumes and are hard-hitting. Unforgiving, harsh and jarring, the film is a scathing commentary on the reality of their life and LA Christmas looks more poignant and bitter-sweet than ever.  

“Bitch, the estrogen has been kicking in, the only thing it hasn’t broken down was these fucking arms. Everything else on my body looks good.”

2. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)

The film is set in a fictitious yet picturesque location, Brokeback Mountain, chronicling the lives of two cowboys Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist who are hired by Joe Aguirre in 1963 for sheep-herding. Slowly the men develop a close, intimate relationship, but the values instilled in them by the heteronormative society prevents them from embracing their true feelings. They part from one another with heavy hearts, only to meet again, four years later. However, the elephant in the room remains unaddressed and Ennis lives to regret his indecisiveness and orthodox nature when Jack meets his fateful ending.

Typecasting Brokeback Mountain as a “gay cowboy movie” is brutal and unjust to the sheer beauty and vulnerability of the film, as well as the dance of denial and subsequent loss. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s electrifying chemistry is complemented and supported by able actors who manage to exemplify the beauty of the film. Beautiful and epic, profound and intimate, the atmospheric melancholy is heightened by the character’s repressed desires, tragic denial and incessant longing to be with one another. It is one of Ang Lee’s finest curations, a moving and compelling masterpiece that changed the course of cinema, paving the way for LGBTQ+ films to establish their legacy with pride. 

“I wish I knew how to quit you.”

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma, 2019)

In 18th century France, a painter named Marianne is commissioned to paint a portrait of an aristocratic woman named Heloise who is betrothed to a Milanese nobleman. As the women spend time together, they develop a bonding that culminates into a forbidden love affair and subsequent separation. 

Well-timed and masterfully crafted, this film is poetry in its truest sense. While analysing the culmination of desire and yearning, the film stresses the sanctity of forbidden love. Breathtaking performances coupled with the melancholy mood complement the film. Intellectually stirring yet unsetting, it is an erotic examination of the danger of desire and passion within the realm of a taboo relationship. It is Sciamma’s masterpiece; finally, a film that looks at a lesbian relationship via a woman’s eyes, and is definitely one that shall haunt the viewers long after the credits roll with its sheer beauty and excellence.

“You were right. I am scared. Do all lovers feel they’re inventing something? I know the gestures. I imagined it all, waiting for you.” 

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