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The Beginner’s Guide to Queer Cinema

Words by Jo Kimber

Cinema provides us with a rich, if yet sometimes hidden exploration of queer lives on screen, you often quite literally have to dig around for content. To save your tired fingers from endless Google searches we’ve put together this handy beginner’s guide to get you started.

This is by no means a definitive list, just films we love where LGBTQ+ characters take centre stage, there are no ‘unmarried’ best friends of the main protagonist or ‘single older uncles’ with male roommates here. While those more peripheral often isolated characters certainly have their place within the beginnings of queer cinema, representation is finally starting to move on. The films below are essentially stories of survival and resilience, ingrained into the very fabric of queer DNA, we hope you enjoy watching them.

But I’m a Cheerleader!

But I'm A Cheerleader! - GIF on Imgur

The best one to come out with.

Released in 1999, on the cusp of a new millennium, But I’m a Cheerleader, with its bright colours, charming almost sickly-sweet soundtrack is a sensory very welcome overload. The film is set at ‘New Directions’ a conversion therapy camp where young people are sent by their parents to cure their homosexuality. Jamie Babbit’s direction skilfully veers the film away from self-loathing, the absence of God and religion are key to this, instead, the focus is on subverting gender norms and playing on stereotypes. It is a thing of joy to watch and features what is often missing in queer cinema, a happy ending. Look out for a cameo from a young RuPaul Charles.

Watch on Amazon.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch 

vkinna | Hedwig, John cameron mitchell, Cameron mitchell

The best one to sing along to.

Based on John Cameron Mitchell’s stage play of the same name, the film often feels like a fever dream punctuated by a soundtrack you’re never going to quite get out of your head including the perfect and heartbreakingly beautiful, ‘Origin of Love’. The film follows Hedwig’s journey from oppressive East Germany after botched gender reassignment surgery to America where she becomes the singer and bandleader of ‘The Angry Inch’. Seeped in tragedy, we never really have time to really wallow in, the film keeps pushing through to the most cinematic of crescendos. Want more? Watch Riverdale’s tribute episode on Netflix.

Watch on Amazon.


Ne t'endors pas — Pride (2014)

The one with politics.

Out in 2014 Pride is a British ensemble piece depicting a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to support the British Miner’s Strike in 1984. Set in Thatcher’s Britain, parallels are made very early on between two persecuted groups of society, the miners and the LGBTQI+ community, we watch as they come together, overcoming ignorance and gaining acceptance. The film almost feels far-fetched but then you remember it’s based on a true story and I dare you not to cry during the bread and roses scene.  The shadow of the HIV and AIDS epidemic looms throughout and the recent Russell T Davis show, ‘It’s a Sin’ feels very much like the film’s natural sequel.

Watch on Amazon.


Apples, Oranges, and Tangerine – EASY A – Gnds 125

The one to watch at Christmas

Released in 2015 and famously filmed on three iPhone 5s, Tangerine follows a group of trans sex workers in LA on Christmas Eve. The women hook up with clients, try to settle old scores and deal with lying pimps. The film was released the same year as, ‘The Danish Girl’, which received more attention and no doubt made more money but is problematic in that the lead is played by a male actor, Eddie Redmayne. Tangerine is authentic with a cast of real trans women and exploring a trans street culture so rarely seen on film.  The film tackles transphobia head-on, never holding back and essentially reiterating to us, the audience, the importance of community, that even when someone throws p*** in your face, there’s always a sister who will loan you a fresh wig.

Watch on Amazon.


Barry Jenkins Moonlight GIF by A24 - Find & Share on GIPHY

The one we still think about. 

Moonlight hit cinemas in 2016 and is; unfortunately, remembered by many due to Warren Beatty’s 2017 Oscars gaff, but La La Land this film is not.

The film follows a man through three stages of life, from childhood, adolescent to adulthood. Set in the projects of Miami, it’s a film that gut-punches throughout, the camera lingers, and little is often said, only ever alluded too often in a violent distressing way. We feel the warmth from the sea when the boy learns to swim, safe in the arms of a drug dealer, the desperation and rage of a bullied teenager slowly beginning to realise who he truly is and what it means to finally be held, without judgement and fear.

Watch on Amazon

Jo is a producer and writer based in Bristol. She has had an interest in queer representation in arts and culture since she stole her mum’s copy of Joanna Trollope’s ‘A Village Affair’ when she was 13 on a family camping holiday in France.