This Pride Month, we would like to encourage engagement with the LGBTQ+ community through our bread and butter: entertainment! What better way than to take a look at what we believe are some of the best films and series with powerful LGBTQ+ narratives and themes. Here are just a few suggestions for your Pride Month watchlist.
Barry Jenkins’s 2016 coming-of-age drama tackles intersectional issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Moonlight follows a black man named Chiron as a young child, a teenager, and an adult – the distinct periods of his extremely problematic life that form the boundaries of the film’s three-part format.
Chiron goes through adolescence grappling with his own identity. His sexual orientation makes him question whether he is sufficiently masculine, and his mother’s neglect makes him wonder if he will ever find acceptance. Overwhelmed by these questions of identity, Chiron physically reinvents himself as an adult, becoming unrecognizably muscular and traditionally masculine. Despite his physical transformation, he finds that the same underlying issues of sexuality, family, and acceptance are more enduring than he thought.
At times gut-wrenching and at other times heartwarming, Moonlight was met with universal critical acclaim. Don’t let the infamous 2017 Academy Awards blunder detract from this film’s legacy; it fully deserved its Oscar.
Since the release of its first season in 2016, Netflix’s original comedy-drama series Sex Education has managed to be one of the most popular shows on stream while also being one of the most progressive. The show follows Otis, an awkward high schooler, as he and his friends grapple with pressing dilemmas around identity and sexuality. A refreshingly grounded show exploring the realities of adolescent sexuality, Sex Education has paved the way for queer representation in mainstream entertainment. Several of the show’s characters are queer, but they are not tokenized; LGBTQ themes are explored with nuance and care.
Funny, emotional, dramatic, but also very real, Sex Education has garnered millions of (mostly teenage) fans worldwide. It’s easy to see why Netflix has renewed the show for another season – a thoroughly entertaining watch, though perhaps not for the faint-hearted.
This 2017 coming-of-age drama follows a romantic relationship between a teenager named Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and a graduate student named Oliver (Armie Hammer). Set in Italy in the 1980s, Call Me By Your Name is a touching love story that has been praised for its artistic and intellectual approach to same-sex love. It has been commended for its acting performances, cinematography, and directing, with some even dubbing it a “modern gay classic.” Its overwhelming success demonstrated that a critically acclaimed romantic drama does not need to feature a relationship between a man and a woman.
You might be surprised to see this movie on this list. Widely considered one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, The Matrix was unlike anything audiences had ever seen before; the film tells a mind-bending sci-fi story using groundbreaking visual effects and spectacular action sequences. It follows computer programmer Neo (Keanu Reeves) as he joins a rebellion to overthrow intelligent machines that have created a simulated reality to trap and enslave all of humanity.
So what does a revolutionary sci-fi blockbuster have to do with Pride Month? As it turns out, The Matrix is an allegory for transgender identity. Many years after the film’s release, its directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski both came out as transgender women and revealed the film’s true meaning. Unbeknownst to cast members and fans alike, The Matrix is a subtle metaphor for its directors’ experiences as transgender individuals trapped inside bodies that didn’t feel like theirs. The simulated reality in the film has been likened to experiencing gender dysphoria – a mismatch between one’s assigned sex and one’s gender identity.
It’s pretty significant that one of the most iconic flicks of all time was written and directed by two transgender filmmakers and that its premise was in fact an allegory for their respective searches for gender identity. It also serves as a reminder that even action-heavy blockbusters can elicit powerful messages – messages that might go completely overlooked for years. If you’ve never seen The Matrix, it’s an essential sci-fi flick you should check out ASAP. If you’ve already seen it, consider watching it again with this metaphor in mind.
Cartoon Network’s animated children’s series Steven Universe received widespread acclaim for its handling of themes surrounding gender and sexuality. It follows the Crystal Gems, a team of magical beings that keep the universe safe as well as Steven, a half-Gem, half-human boy. Steven’s fantasy adventures with the Crystal Gems captured the hearts of millions of children worldwide, while also educating them on topics other kids’ shows have shied away from. The show’s creator, Rebecca Sugar, explained that the LGBT themes in the show are intended to help children in their quests for identity. She asserts that queer youth should see themselves in mainstream entertainment just as other children do.
The show subtly blurs the lines of what is considered “normal” children’s television for each gender, demonstrating that a good show doesn’t necessarily need to cater to one or the other. This series manages to be funny, emotional, and entertaining while normalizing queer identities and themes in a manner unmatched by any other.
The second A24 film on this list, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All At Once has taken the film world by storm in 2022. At first glance, this movie might not belong on a Pride Month watch list; it’s a melting pot of mind-bending science fiction, existentialism, fantasy, martial arts, and dark comedy. The film follows Evelyn, a middle-aged Chinese immigrant who discovers the existence of parallel universes that form every time someone makes a choice – universes that can get out of hand very quickly (à la butterfly effect).
On the surface, the film is an absurd sci-fi adventure through parallel dimensions to save the universe. Under the hood, however, lies an important and compelling narrative of sexuality and familial acceptance. Evelyn’s daughter, Joy, brings her girlfriend home and plans on coming out to her whole family. However, Evelyn shuts this down, not wanting to complicate or burden other people’s lives with Joy’s relationship. It is this rejection that underlies much of the film’s conflict, as Joy scours parallel universes in search of an alternate version of her mother who accepts what gives her daughter meaning and happiness.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a roller coaster of emotions that you shouldn’t really need an invitation to watch. Existentialism, science fiction, and fantasy underlie an emotionally charged tale of queer identity and acceptance. Step aside, Marvel Studios – this is how you create a compelling multiverse.
Rightsline is a workplace where you can be yourself, no matter how you identify or whom you love. Over the next few weeks, let’s come together as allies to listen, learn, and continue to foster a safe space of inclusion while we demonstrate our unmitigated support for the LGBTQ+ community. The entertainment world is full of LGBTQ+ influence, and it is important that it does not go unnoticed. This month, whether or not you decide to give any of the movies or shows on this list a try, take a moment to acknowledge queer contributions to entertainment; you might find some hidden gems.