Though there are some independent and big screen films that depict LGBTQ+ relationships and identities, or explore feminist ideas, we’ve narrowed down our favorites to a list of must-sees exploring the intersectionality of sexual, gender, and racial identities that depict authentic queer desire through beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking narratives.
Featured Photo: Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the Oscars in 2017. (Photo: David Bornfriend)
Women Talking (2022) tw: trigger warning
One of the most moving contemporary commentaries on the female experience, Women Talking, explores the conversations between a group of Mennonite women as they decide whether to stay or leave their community after discovering the men have been raping and assaulting the women and children every night. The film, which is directed by Sarah Polley and stars Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara and Jessie Buckley, evaluates the heartbreaking reality of domestic violence and the power of a woman’s decision and voice.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Written and directed by French screenwriter Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire explores the relationship between a young bride to be Héloïse and the artist commissioned to paint her, Marianne. As tension and romance slowly build between the two, Sciamma explores their relationship as a portrayal of the female gaze and queer desire.
Little Women (2019)
Director Greta Gerwig’s interpretation of Louisa May Alcott’s iconic story features feminist monologues on the meaning of being a woman in a patriarchal society. Through main character Jo, played by Saiorse Ronan, Gerwig explores themes of feminine identity, the complex choices of middle class women to marry wealthy, pursue a career, or settle for a modest life as a mother and wife in 19th century United States.
This film won best picture at the Academy Awards in 2017 for its gut-wrenchingly beautiful depiction of a young Black man as he matures and struggles with his sexual identity. Told in a three-act structure, the audience journeys with main character Chiron through his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.
After discovering that her pimp boyfriend cheated on her while she served jail time, transgender sex worker Sin-Dee Rella goes on a search for him with her best friend. The comedy, directed by Sean Baker, has a unique inimitable quality of realism created by the characters and the fact that it was all shot on an iPhone.
Paris is Burning (1990)
This documentary investigates the lives of New York City drag queens in the 1980s and the world of ball culture, an African American and Latino queer subculture in which drag queens organize their own pageants or balls to compete against each other at. The documentary was directed by Jennie Livingston and offers commentary on the intersectionality of being BIPOC and queer.
Based on the novel by Virigina Wolfe, Orlando is a perplexing film best described by the BBC as “the story of a time traveling aristocrat who lives through 400 years of history – and changes gender along the way.” Though the film wasn’t well received in the early 1990s, today it stands as a pillar of feminist and queer filmaking, and one of the first films to truly explore gender fluidity in this way. Directed by Sally Potter, Orlando stars Tilda Swinton who delivers an incredible performance from the 17th century to modern day.
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
This quintessential lesbian film follows a young Black lesbian filmmaker, Cheryl Dunye, as she struggles to research and create a documentary about a fictional black actress, Fae Richards, known only under the pseudonym of “Watermelon Woman” in the 1930s and 40s. The film also explores the racial dynamics of Cheryl’s relationship with her white girlfriend, Diana.