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20 LGBTQ Movies Everyone Should Watch At Least Once

How have you not seen The Watermelon Woman yet?

Hi, friend! I'm Samantha, I'm queer, and I watch a lot of movies. For Pride 2021, here's 20 films important to, made by, about, and starring people in the LGBTQ community that I think *everyone* should see at least once.

You'll notice I left some movies you might expect off this list. 

As much as I love Ang Lee (and all his film's rugged beauty), Brokeback Mountain is still a movie by and for cis/het people, whose actors often downplayed their characters' queer sexuality. And, yes, while Cabaret is funny and classic, gay novelist Christopher Isherwood (whose 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin inspired the film) thought the movie reduced homosexuality to a comedically incidental weakness "like bedwetting.” And then there's Boys Don't Cry... Don't even get me started.

Your hard-won clicks should go to support films that actually uplift the LGBTQ community, rather than just use the idea of queer people (and straight, cis actors) to sensationalize our existence, mock us, or make money. 

The myths and morals we see onscreen enter our consciousness, shifting the way we engage with our world and each other in the process. Media matters and what we watch shapes who we are. To paraphrase the gay French cultural critic Roland Barthes, movies do not just suspend disbelief; they purify and make it innocent, naturalizing and eternally justifying the worlds they represent with clarity akin to statements of fact. To construct a canon is, thus, an act that rewrites history.

Thankfully, it's 2021 and now there's a whole universe of LGBTQ cinema out there to explore, portraying the lives, loves, losses, and lessons learned by people in the community from all over the world. Maybe you're new to the genre, maybe you want to understand LGBTQ folks better, or, perhaps, you're looking for something new to enjoy. Whatever reason brought you here, I hope you find something on this list that moves you. 

So make some popcorn, find a buddy to watch and "chill" with (if that's your thing), and let's dive in!

1. Tangerine (2015)

Screencap from "Tangerine"
Magnolia Pictures

Sean Baker directed this raucous movie about transgender sex worker Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), out for revenge on her cheating boyfriend Chester (James Ransome) on Christmas Eve. The Hollywood Reporter called it "a singularly delightful girlfriend movie with an attitude," and Variety's Justin Chang said Tangerine is "an exuberantly raw and up-close portrait of one of Los Angeles's more distinctive sex trade subcultures." However you'd categorize it, it's a visually stunning movie with multiple trans characters who are actually played by trans actors, and it's worth your time for that reason alone.

The film, shot for next to nothing using three iPhones in 2013, captures Hollywood's charged radiance and sprawling grace with a deftness I have yet to see anyone else match. A lot of folks say it made the area look seedy in contrast their idea of Dideon's bikini-glammed LA and the skin-deep glossiness of the movie industry (looking at you, everyone at the Guardian and New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis), but I lived in Hollywood for years and had an apartment a few blocks from many of the locations in the film at the time it was shot. I wholeheartedly disagree.

The stretch of LA and the independent city of West Hollywood between Doheny Drive and the 110 has been giving shelter and safe haven to trans people like me for generations. It still holds a place near and dear to my heart as the most accepting environment I've ever lived in (and I've lived a lot of places). Identity politics aside, like a lot of Angelenos, I actually think Tangerine does a pretty good job portraying the sun-soaked days and florescent nights we all know and love about our city. Also, let's not kid ourselves: Where the movie takes place around Santa Monica and Highland is an epicenter of the LA art world surrounded by film and TV production facilities. It’s no underbelly. Frankly, I think some reviewers made the area out to be an underbelly because it has for so long been an accepting home to the trans community and the film prominently features trans people and people of color living precarious lives onscreen that are outside the whitewashed norm. Sad.

In the iconic language of my Valley girl childhood, my response to all that is two-handed W and a big ol', eye-rolling "whatever." Watch this movie for the beauty of it and the incredible performances by two talented trans actresses diving headlong into what first appear as stock clichés but unfold with an emotional honesty that's positively breathtaking. Along with Rodriguez, Mya Taylor's portrayal of Alexandra is phenomenal. And did you know she was actually roommates with Rodriguez when they were cast?! Maybe that's why it all clicks so well.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99+ (available in SD and HD).

2. The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Cheryl Dunye in the movie
Cheryl Dunye / Vanity Fair / Via

Getting this movie made and distributed was a landmark achievement by director and star Cheryl Dunye, one of my GOAT butch heroes. It's the first-ever Black lesbian feature film and it's phenomenal. Of all the ones on this list, this is the one for which I'm like, "How have you not watched this yet?"

The movie follows a fictionalized Cheryl Dunye, who while working at a video store is interested in Black actresses in mid-century American filmmaking playing often uncredited "mammy" roles; then, she sets out to find one of them, identified in the credits of a film called Plantation Memories only as "the Watermelon Woman." The plot progresses through a series of interviews, including with Dunye's mother Irene (also playing herself) and an excellent cameo by the cultural critic Camille Paglia.

After a visit to the delightfully named Center for Lesbian Information and Technology (make it an acronym...heh), Cheryl learns the actress portraying the Watermelon Woman was a lesbian romantically involved with the movie's white director; in parallel, Cheryl takes up with a white woman she meets at her day job. Their intimate sex scene is probably my favorite ever and, in its portrayal of interracial queer romance onscreen, *still* groundbreaking.

It's clever, it's intelligent, Cheryl's outfits are to die for, and it made history. So see it already!

Watch it on YouTube for free, courtesy of the UCLA Film & TV Archive.

3. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

Victoria Cruz in the movie

Repeat after me: "The first pride was a riot against police brutality, led by people of color.”

Got that seared into your gay little brain now? Great. Let's continue.

This is a documentary that follows the New York trans activist (and another one of my personal heroes) Victoria Cruz as she investigates community icon Marsha P. Johnson's mysterious death in 1992. After finding her body in the Hudson River, the NYPD ruled Johnson's death to be a homicide, an unsurprisingly unconvincing theory many of her friends chalked up to transphobia.

Director David France, who is known for his investigative journalism on LGBTQ topics and is gay himself, got some flack for the film's assemblage-like mashup of interviews, archival, and documentary footage. I think such critique is downright asinine. It's a compelling bunch of footage about a crucial topic and its context that doesn't shy away from the violence and oppression we all still contend with daily. Watch it.

Watch it on Netflix for free with a subscription.

4. The Way He Looks / Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (2014)

Ghilherme Lobo in the movie
Vitrine Films

This one's an adorable, uplifting, and quietly funny coming-of-age movie about a blind teenager discovering his sexuality. It was directed by the brilliant gay Brazilian filmmaker Daniel Ribeiro and stars three incredible young actors: Ghilherme Lobo, Fábio Audi, and Tess Amorim. While not blind himself, Lobo's acting is truly excellent. The movie also has a great soundtrack, featuring Belle and Sebastian, Arvo Pärt, David Bowie, and the National.

Disability and queer childhood are two subjects very important to me personally, and I love this one because Ribeiro does a wonderful job telling a gay love story without sensationalizing his characters' sexuality. The critics seem to agree with me. In his positive review, Boyd van Hoeij of the Hollywood Reporter says, "Ribeiro has impressively fleshed out the material into a full narrative, with not only added conflict and a convincing gallery of supporting characters, but also an entirely new focus on the quest for independence of the blind lead." Jay Weissberg of Variety veritably gushed over it, raving, "Daniel Ribeiro's gay coming-of-age debut has an undeniable appeal... This is a gay story, done with tenderness and capturing the hesitancy of expressing affection when rejection can have ugly consequences." If it could win over these notoriously picky film buffs, I'm sure it will charm you, too.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $2.99+ (available in SD and HD).

5. Moonlight (2016)


This moody and marvelous cinematic masterpiece — adapted from an unpublished semi-autobiographical play by Yale School of Drama playwriting chair Tarell Alvin McCraney — has been cited by many as one of the finest films of the 21st century. It made history at the 2017 Academy Awards when it won Best Picture, Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and McCraney shared an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay with writer/director Barry Jenkins. And that's (literally) not the half of it: The film was nominated for five more Academy Awards, including Joi McMillon's nomination for an editing Oscar — the first Black woman to receive the honor.

The movie follows three stages in the life of the main character Chiron (played by a different actor in each part). It's gorgeous aesthetically (the men, the cinematography, and the cars are all certifiably droolworthy), but it is also a powerful reevaluation of what it means to be a man. The scene where Ali's Juan tells a young Chiron (Alex Hibbert) that "a faggot is a word to make people feel bad" and "you might be gay but don't let anyone ever call you a faggot" brought me to tears because, despite encountering that word a lot at the time, I never, not once, had that kind of strong and supportive male role model in my life as a kid. When I saw the movie at the Regal Cinemas on Second Ave in NYC's Lower East Side, it was clear a lot of other people in the theater felt the same way. The famous beach and restaurant scenes also have a kind of tender sweetness you almost never see associated with masculinity. On the whole, this one was really healing for me, a person who was AMAB and punished over and over for the softness lurking at the heart of my masculinity.

You can take away from this whatever you like, of course. But, whatever you might get out of it, it's a tour de force you need to check off your list ASAP.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $1.99+ (available in SD and HD).

6. Your Name / 君の名は。 (2016)

A still from "Your Name"
CoMix / Toho

This absolutely gorgeous anime body-switching fantasy is trans AF without getting into the identity politics of it all and consequentially one of my favorites.

Two teenagers magically learn to switch bodies and time-shift. There's no weird stuff about genitals or assignments or violence or dysphoria; it's just two people in new bodies and getting to know each other in the process, while trying to save a small town. I cried so hard the first time I watched it, and boy do I love me a good cry. In case you can't follow a subbed version (and I have ADHD, bad; I feel you), the English dub is also pretty good.

True, there's nothing about this movie that's intentionally LGBTQ. But it did a lot for me to start to get comfortable with my own genderqueerness; looking back, it it was actually totally life-changing, if I'm being really honest with myself. And I'm not the only one to have this experience: The movie has a very strong following in the transgender community. If you wanna know more, translesbian gaming blogger Jade King wrote an excellent op-ed about the subject here.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video in Japanese with English subtitles available for $2.99+, or dubbed in English for $2.99+ (available in SD and HD).

7. Paris Is Burning (1990)

Venus Xtravaganza, "Paris is Burning"

A loving documentary about New York ball culture in the 1980s by groundbreaking lesbian director (and onetime love interest of a friend of mine) Jennie Livingston, this politically astute and profoundly empathetic film does an incredible job portraying the humility and heartbreak of a remarkable group of people finding themselves and each other in an often-hostile world. It remains an important educational and organizing tool for gay and trans folks to this day.

I bet most of you have already seen this so let's discuss what it means now, 31 years since its release.

As Venus Xtravaganza's death late in the movie reminds us, QTPOC lives are often much harder, more precarious, and shorter than they ought to be. Since the film came out, many of the incredible people portrayed in it have also died. AIDS, cancer, diabetes, violence, and other causes we may never even know ended their lives way too soon. Only three — three!!! — are still with us. It didn't have to be that way. And trans people still suffer from disproportionate economic inequality, limited access to competent and affirming medical care, and the consequential effects of others' hatred.

It makes me angry to know that Paris Is Burning is both a relic of its time and a grim reminder of how much still needs to change. This speaks to me very personally; I experienced the sort of violence it touches on in the end of the film, on several occasions, in my teens and early twenties. That was 20 years after this movie came out. What saddens me is knowing for all that’s changed, there’s also all that hasn’t. Trans people — and Black trans women in particular — are still murdered ~all the time~ for no reason other than their existence. If you view it retrospectively (and if you’re committed to progress for trans people, how could you not?), Paris Is Burning raises some troubling questions: How long are we going to have to wait until we're able to live out the lives we deserve? And what are *you* gonna do about it?

Meanwhile, although Livingston did an incredible job and now we have this movie and, y'know...yay for all that, it would likely have been impossible for someone with less cultural capital to pull it off. She's white, grew up in Beverly Hills, graduated from Yale, and started the project as a student at NYU; then, with the help of an editor, she leveraged her initial footage to win funding from the NEA, NYSCA, the Paul Robeson Fund, and the Jerome Foundation (all major grant-makers in the arts). I think the real hero here is (maybe) writer, producer, director, and onetime WNYC-TV head Madison Davis Lacy, who seeded the project with $125,000. Why just a "maybe?" Although, according to distributor Miramax, the film ultimately made around $4 million, the people who were portrayed in it were only compensated $55,000 — split 13 ways. Pepper LaBeija spoke out about this in an interview with the New York Times in 1993: "I feel betrayed. When Jennie first came, we were at a ball, in our fantasy, and she threw papers at us. We didn’t read them because we wanted the attention. We loved being filmed. Later, when she did the interviews, she gave us a couple hundred dollars. But she told us that when the film came out, we would be all right. There would be more coming." The "papers" LaBeija is referring to were WNYC-generated model releases, which ultimately derailed the 1991 lawsuit by several people in the movie to secure damages or at least their fair share of the film's profits. (For example, before the releases were uncovered by a lawyer, Paris Dupree was going to sue for $40 million.)

Finally, there's the question of what this film's legacy is and what it should be. It did a lot to bring attention to talented people who deserved it and to mainstream drag, and help its language enter the common lexicon. But are a Madonna song, another Ryan Murphy show, cisgay men, and certain pop stars using phrases like "reading" and "throwing shade" really the legacy the people portrayed in Paris Is Burning deserve? Or, for that matter, is RuPaul's Drag Race's distillation of the resilient strengths of ball culture's chosen families into paltry competition, a refusal to cast out trans people for nine seasons, and offensive absurdities like "you've got she-mail!" the best we can do? No, of course not. But I'll leave it up to you to figure out what should be. 

Watch it for free here.

PS, the Hollywood Reporter published an interview with Junior LaBeija on June 11, 2021. Read it here.

8. The Color Purple (1985)

Still from "The Color Purple"
Warner Bros.

Alice Walker's book The Color Purple is a heart-wrenching, beautiful queer classic so beloved by folks that, when they saw me reading it, total strangers would drop whatever they were doing to tell me about how much they loved it. And it's true that Walker's portrayal of queer women making their way through a patriarchal world with conviction and self-possessed glory is gripping, necessary, inspiring.

Thankfully, the movie version of the book is also very good; although one is left to wonder 36 years later how the material might have been handled by a director who was personally closer to the subject matter. The movie stars the inimitable Whoopi Goldberg in her breakout role, along with such incredible talents as Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Rae Dawn Chong, Willard Pugh, and Adolph Caesar. The great Quincy Jones did the score, which is also fantastic. 

For the record, I think Steven Spielberg did a fine job directing and his ostensibly colorblind approach to the strength of humanity and difficult subjects like domestic violence helped the movie to gain universal appeal in a time when deep, emotional portrayals of Black women were not in the mainstream... But let's be real here. The credit for this film's enduring resonance goes to Walker.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99+ (available in SD and HD).

9. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)


I love me some old-fashioned road trip buddy comedies and this is my downright fave. You should watch it for the high heel–decorated bus alone; the scenes of the giant silver-sequined shoe making its way across the Outback, glittering in all its resplendent glory, are a brilliantly cheeky rendition of the loneliness lurking at the center of all camp. The sequence where Guy Pearce's Felicia practices her operatic miming, sitting in the shoe in a matching silver outfit — impossibly long cape flapping behind — is amazing and iconic.

Written and directed by gay Australian filmmaker Stephan Elliott, the film follows Bernadette Bassenger, a transgender woman played by Terence Stamp, traveling from Sydney to Alice Springs on a tour bus named Priscilla with two drag queens (Hugo Weaving's Anthony "Tick" Belrose/Mitzi Del Bra and Guy Pearce's aforementioned Felicia). Along the way they face friendly folks and also homophobic violence. The bus gets vandalized and breaks down, someone gets beaten, the closet looms large everywhere. Twenty-seven years later, it seems to be something of a period piece but there's nothing wrong with that. And though I'm personally none too fond of portrayals of drag as the satiric provenance of cis men (Tyler Perry's Madea being a notable exception), Elliott's portrayal of bi and gay characters with full-fledged, sometimes complicated lives is laudable in itself and for how it introduced LGBTQ themes to audiences who were, at the time, far less familiar with queer subject matter than they are now.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $2.99+ (available in SD and HD).

10. Auntie Mame (1958)

Still from "Auntie Mame"
Warner Bros.

Lest you think I "stepped on the ping-pong ball" with this one, I'll say right off I know this movie's neither about LGBTQ folks, nor was it made by anyone out enough for us to know for sure if they were "in the family" (more on that in a moment). It is, however, based on the 1955 bestseller of the same name by Edward Everett Tanner III, a bisexual staple of the 1950s Greenwich Village queer scene who wrote under the pseudonyms Patrick Dennis and Virginia Rowans. And, yes, Rosalind Russell was about as straight and straight-laced as you can get but her rendition of Mame as a resolutely queer woman living for herself is as iconic as it as a whole lot of fun to watch.

What all happens in the movie? It doesn't really matter. It's a gorgeous camp classic, albeit flawed. In a time when affirming LGBTQ media representation was a lot more limited than it is now, this sort of melodramatic fabulousness was appropriated by gay men in particular, who found a balm in such overdramatic construction of femininity for the male gaze. One could look at RuPaul's career and argue that this is still with us. But as far as I can tell, high camp culture has been slowly dying for a while now, as we move away from projecting onto cis/het characters and start making movies by, for, and about ourselves. I once got into an argument with the gay cultural theorist David Halperin over whether or not this represents progress. You can watch and decide for yourself.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99+ (available in SD and HD).

11. A Jihad for Love (2007)

Still from "A Jihad for Love"
First Run Pictures

State-sanctioned homophobic and transphobic violence based on Qur'anic interpretations is all too common in many countries with a Muslim majority, where authorities are broadly empowered to surveil, entrap, imprison, torture, and kill LGBTQ people. But even for those who leave for Europe or North America and adopt more openly gay personae, racial profiling and overzealous monitoring (which intensified after the terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, and New York at the beginning of this century) continue to make life difficult. This presents a false imperative that one must walk back from their religion to find freedom from oppression. The people depicted in A Jihad For Love wholeheartedly reject that notion.

This was the first-ever feature-length documentary exploring intersectional issues around Islam and homosexuality, and it does so incredible sincerity and depth. It's also won more awards than I have the space to name and deserved every last one. It was filmed in 12 countries and 9 languages, and its portrayal of people reconciling their faith with the reality of their lives holds lessons on self-determination that are relevant to everybody. The equal attention paid to men and women is also noteworthy, considering how gender-segregated queer cinema tends to be.

But don't watch it for that. Do so because of what it meant for the people involved and director Parvez Sharma's empathetic handling of the delicacies of their individual circumstances. Many of the people in the film chose to remain anonymous, fearing that if they were outed, it could lead to their deaths. Participating in the filmmaking took some real bravery. I think the cause these folks risked their lives for was one as powerful as it is worthwhile: to challenge the idea that homosexuality and Muslim identity are mutually exclusive, and to challenge the West on its prejudice toward Islam. As Sarma told New York magazine shortly before the film's release, "Being gay and Muslim myself, I knew that this film had to be about us all coming out — as Muslims. It's about claiming the Islam that has been denied to us." I think he succeeded.

It's not currently possible to stream the movie in the USA unless you can get access to Kanopy with a public library card. But, you can buy the DVD from Amazon for $17.60.

12. In Between / بَر بَحَر‎, / לא פה, לא שם‎ (2016)

A still from "In Between"
Deux Beaux Garçons

Three Palestinian women share an apartment in Tel Aviv. Laila (Mouna Hawa) is a big-haired, chain-smoking lawyer with panache and a disdain for convention. Salma (Sana Jammelieh) is a DJ who quits her day job working in food service after being told by her boss that speaking Arabic at work is "unpleasant” (even though she struggles to muster the same kind of courage to come out as gay to her family). And Nur (Shaden Kanboura) has just moved in; a computer science student from a conservative small town, she's shocked by her roommates' freewheeling, drug-using, sexually liberated lifestyles. It’s a scenario that anyone who's tried to build a life for themselves, away from oppression at home, has experienced at some point.

In their own way, each struggles against a man trying to stifle them. Salma’s dad, for example, loves how she's too picky to commit to a husband but then loses it when he finds out why. In the end, it’s part buddy comedy, part #MeToo revenge fantasy (which I won't spoil), but mostly it's a movie about the difficult experience navigating the reality of being a Palestinian woman in Israel. To paraphrase an editorial in Haaretz, the characters suffer under a "double burden": looking for freedom and self-determination, while suffering on the one hand from Israeli discrimination and on the other, the dominance of patriarchy in Palestinian society. It's from this duality that the film gets its name.

Director Maysaloun Hamoud, who is Palestinian and grew up in Beersheba, said the idea for the movie came out of the experiences of her peers, many of whom fled their hometowns to seek freedom in big cities, only to find they aren't really accepted there either. “We will never be considered as equal, so we are in between,” Hamoud told Vogue in 2018. “Out of the society that we came from and not really part of the Israeli society in equal ways in the places we live.”

It’s a story that needs to be told and also I think something that anyone who has tried to build a better life for themselves can relate to.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $2.99+ (available in SD and HD).

13. The Half of It (2020)


Adapted from the 19th-century play Cyrano de Bergerac, this smart and charming coming-of-age tale from gay Taiwanese American director Alice Wu tells the story of three kids growing up in rural Washington. Introverted but articulate A-student Ellie (Leah Lewis) is recruited by inarticulate jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) to write love letters on his behalf to his crush Aster (Alexxis Lemire). Through their letters, Alexis and Ellie/crypto-Paul connect over a shared interest in literature, but Paul's romantic gestures flop because...well, he's no Ellie. The scene where Ellie saves a failing second date by texting Aster as Paul is priceless, the scene where Aster and Ellie finally spend some time together at the hot spring is beautiful, and the relationship that develops between Paul and Ellie's dad over love and sausage-making is really heartwarming. 

It's kind of a lesbian and bisexual love story and with a distinctly aromatic twist (which, being aro myself, I quite enjoy). Lewis summed it up pretty well, I think, in her interview with Teen Vogue: "Most people think a love story has an equation and that's usually boy meets girl, girl meets boy, or girl meets girl. [But The Half of It] is a self-love story because these characters don't really end up with each other; but at the very end, they end up with something. For me, that's even more valuable than just finding your other half; it's finding a part of yourself along the way. It is a love story. It's just not a 'romance' story."

It's smart, it's charming, and it's the kind of thing we've waited way too long to see. A.O. Scott called this the best movie of 2020 when it came out. I think you'll agree.

Watch it in Netflix for free with a subscription.

14. Twilight's Kiss / 叔.叔 (2019)

A still from "Twilight's Kiss"
New Voice Film Productions

This critically acclaimed Hong Kong drama was adapted from Oral Histories of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong by Travis Shiu Ki Kong, a sociologist of Chinese sexuality who specializes in homosexuality. Full of quiet moments and tender feelings, the film takes us on a journey of self-discovery and awakening after two closeted gay men meet in a chance encounter and fall in love. Pak (Tai Bo) is a 70-year-old taxi driver; Hoi (Ben Yuen) is 65 and a single father who's retired. As their affair blossoms but remains hidden from their conservative families, the late-blooming romance highlights the divide between the personal and the public experiences of being gay.

The film — which wasn't released in the US until this year — has won high praise for sensitivity and sincere realism, and is additionally notable for being powerful without feeling contrived. The writing is layered and sophisticated, each scene is packed with careful detail (Pak's cab, in particular, is amazing), and the comparisons between Pak and Hoi's families, social circles, and respective life choices resonated as true to life for people with similar experiences. It's a well-crafted, heartfelt movie about a slice of the LGBTQ community that often falls through the cracks. You should see it.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $2.99+ (available in SD and HD).

15. Mosquita y Mari (2012)

A still from "Mosquita y Mari"
Indion Entertainment

Queer-identified Chicana activist and writer/director Aurora Guerrero did an incredible job bringing this coming-of-age story to life onscreen.

The movie is set in Huntington Park, a once exclusively white suburb hugging LA's former manufacturing belt that was reclaimed by upwardly mobile Hispanic families looking to exit East LA and recent Mexican immigrants after the real estate and aerospace busts of the early 1990s. It centers on the relationship between two 15-year-olds, who after being assigned as study buddies find an intimate bond that at times confuses them, as their friendship blooms into romantic affection (we've all been there). In the process, Guerrero takes us on a journey that touches on the challenges faced by queer folks in a vibrant but rarely portrayed community, like homophobia, social expectations, and financial precarity. And as she does so, she affectionately opens a window to the kind of complex struggles many people contend with alone, winning high praise for her sincerity and resistance to cliché. It's a sweet movie about people who deserve more representation and even if it sounds corny, I promise it's anything but.

Watch it on Netflix for free with a subscription, or on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99+ (available in SD and HD).

16. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The Tiffany Troupe, 1979
Lisa K Suton / Via

Audiences began participating with the film during a screening at New York's Waverly Theater in 1976. Since then, this cult classic has become the center of a usually welcoming and gender-expansive tradition fueled by costumed LGBTQ fans, with initiation rites and so-called shadow casts acting out the movie at weekend midnight screenings.

Although the yelling started in New York (....typical 🙄), the party atmosphere with its many traditions developed at the Tiffany Theater in West Hollywood, which began midnight showings of the film in its uncut entirety in June 1977. The shadow cast there, which went by the name the Tiffany Troupe and performed until the theater closed in 1983, was famously headlined by D. Garrett Gafford, who is trans and out of devotion to meticulous accuracy made a set of beautifully intricate costumes to wear while playing Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

In watching this movie and making it their own, generations of queer people have used a story about outsiders to find a place for themselves and feel a sense of belonging. If you've never experienced the phenomenon of seeing Rocky Horror live, I implore you to take on this strange journey for yourself, especially if you can find a theater that still lets you throw stuff at the screen.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99+ (available in SD and HD).

17. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

Still from "The Times of Harvey Milk"
TC Films

Through interviews with a range of people familiar with the man's extraordinary and tragic life, Academy Award–winning gay filmmakers Rob Epstein and Richard Schmiechen paint a vivid picture of the tragically too-short career of the trailblazing grassroots politician Harvey Milk. 

Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California history, was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and helped to pass the city's first law banning discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment on the basis of sexual orientation. Through widespread campaigning, he also helped to prevent passage of the Briggs Initiative, a California ballot measure that would have made it mandatory to fire any public school employee who supported gay rights — a huge and surprising triumph for California's LGBTQ community. Only 10 months after he assumed office, however, Milk was murdered by disgruntled fellow Supervisor Dan White (San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was associated as well).

The documentary is universally acclaimed for its empathetic handling of difficult subject matter and superb craft. It is perhaps one of the finest documentaries ever made, about a historic injustice that still haunts many people in our community.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Video for $2.99+ (available in SD and HD).

18. Ghost in the Shell / 攻殻機動隊 (1995)

Major Makoto Kusanagi, "Ghost in the Shell"

One of the best sci-fi films of all time, "the first truly adult animation to reach a level of literary and visual excellence" according to James Cameron, and an inspiration for the Wachowski sisters' Matrix trilogy, this anime classic is a remarkable philosophical inquiry into self-identity, technology, and embodiment. In a world where full-body cybernetic replacement has become widespread (and, due to compatibility issues, heterosexual intercourse is illegal) Major Makoto Kusanagi, head of the counter-cyberterrorist organization Public Security Section 9, is a cyborg in search of hackers targeting the brains of human-machine hybrids. In the process, she confronts her own identity and alienation.

I'm going to quote the acclaimed trans artist Elektra KB here, who summarized what this film means beautifully in a 2019 interview with IFC:

“Living in a conflict with the body I was assigned has been a constant for most of my life. Ghost in the Shell speaks to me about the exchange of shells, not as mere interchangeable prosthetics but as technological possibilities for some disabled humans, that, like me, fantasize often about getting a functional robot body. I am currently preoccupied with becoming a part-machine cyborg to actualize my body. I want to engage corporeal sickness, disability, and chronic pain with utopian possibilities and alternative universes. Ghost in the Shell makes us think of speculative trans-feminist technologies while showing elements of a radically tender, liberatory future in an AI-cybernetic and dysphoria-hacking cyberpunk world.”

Watch it for free on YouTube.

19. Fire Song (2015)

A still from "Fire Song"
Wolfe Distributing / Maria Cordoni Entertainment

Warning: This film includes extensive portrayal and discussion of suicide.

Indigiqueer screenwriter, director, and novelist Adam Garnet Jones did a marvelous job with this frank portrait of the intersection of depression, isolation, and LGBTQ identity within a First Nation community. Shane, a two-spirit Anishinaabe teenager living in Northern Ontario (played beautifully by Andrew Martin), struggles to support his family after the death of his sister by suicide, while also grappling with internalized homophobia and the prospect of a better life off the reservation. Although he has a girlfriend, Tara (Mary Galloway), he's also smitten with David (Harley LeGarde-Beacham), the grandson of the leader of his community. Only by leaving the reservation can Shane be open about who he really is, but he also struggles with the many challenges this presents.

Young First Nations Canadians are six times more likely to kill themselves than their non-aboriginal counterparts, one of the highest rates in the world and an issue everyone should be thinking about when they consider the lasting impacts of colonialism and white supremacy. And, aside from contending with this important issue, the film also takes a compelling look at young aspirations, self-realization, resiliency, and the importance of family.

Watch it for free on Tubi.

20. Blue (1993)

A still from "Blue"
Zeitgeist Films

There are a lot of movies about the AIDS epidemic but few take one into the mind of someone suffering from the syndrome with as much immediacy. It is, also, a masterpiece unto itself.

By the time he made this film, at the height of the epidemic, the trailblazing English gay filmmaker Derek Jarman was going blind due to complications from AIDS. At the time of the film's release, he was only able to see in shades of blue. Film is, of course, a deeply visual medium and this movie is something of a filmic essay on Jarman's deteriorating vision and impending death. In spite of his diminishing access to the craft that was his life's work and increasing foreclosure of his future, period, Jarman presents us with a hopeful and resilient commitment to vision, both literally and figuratively.

The film has two parts, intercut with one another. The first narrates the adventures of Blue, a character who is also the color, who gets into fights with other colors while also exploring the wide world. The second narrates Jarman's day-to-day life as a gay Londoner and the complications of living with AIDS. Some events are true and some drift off into the realm of daydreams; and through it all, Jarman contemplates his health and what remains of his life. The film ends with a set of names, repeated — "John. Daniel. Howard. Graham. Terry. Paul." — all Jarman's friends and lovers, who died of AIDS.

Movies have the power to transport us to other worlds and into the lives and minds of people we could never meet or dream of being, and here Jarman harnesses that power to do something a little different, rendering his own departing consciousness with a fierce immediacy that's, frankly, unparalleled. When I first encountered the movie, at an exhibition at the New Museum in 2013, I found myself transfixed, and arrested, by the immediacy, humanity, and life the film so powerfully communicates. It was like going into someone’s soul. And if I want you to take anything away from any of the movies on this list, it’s that: an experience of profound empathy, to share in the humanity that ultimately unites us all. It is sometimes joyful, sometimes painful — like our lives, and yours.

Watch it for free with a public library card or university login on Kanopy, or for free with a Fandor subscription on Amazon Prime Video.

Thanks for reading and happy viewing!

These are just a few of the LGBTQ films I think everyone should see at least once. I tried to include movies that reflect our diversity as a community but I'm not perfect. Did you think I missed something? Let me know in the comments!

Looking for more ways to get involved? Check out all of BuzzFeed's posts celebrating Pride 2021.

Kevin Valente / BuzzFeed