Our most formative LGBTQIA+ experiences, so they say, are often on the dance floor of gay clubs, cheeks smudged with glitter and flushed with alcohol. But what about the introverts among us? Personally, my own queer journey started as a socially inexperienced teenager, armed with a precocious appetite for cinema. A shared passion for film was oft the common basis of my earliest relationships, where a date would involve sitting down in a darkened room to pour over every European classic. Eventually, cinema would become a fundamental tool for my own self-acceptance, showing me alternative, non-heteronormative, ways of moving through the world; I began to seek out films, any films, that featured queer relationships and characters as a tool for self-discovery. To mark Pride month, below is a collection of cinematic moments which have helped contextualise my own identity over the years, from older titles like Chantal Akerman’s such as 1974 bisexual breakup movie Je, tu, il, elle to Miranda Julu’s Kajilionaire.
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Emma Seligman’s chaotic debut feature, which follows a queer ‘sugar baby’ at a Jewish funeral, is probably the only film I’ve ever seen which captures the acute sense of bisexual claustrophobia where two people you’re seeing — one of whom who thinks you’re straight and the other of whom thinks you’re gay — happen to be locked up in the same room together. Beyond that, the conflicting comfort and toxicity of the relationship between the protagonist and her on-again, off-again childhood sweetheart really captures the difficult feelings that a lot of us have around our first experiences of queer love. Available on MUBI.
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Je, tu, il, elle sees feminist director Chantal Akerman stepping in front of the camera as a young woman moping around her room after a breakup before suddenly hitchhiking (seducing a man en route) to her ex-girlfriend’s house. It’s important for its unique depiction of lesbian sex — rough, clumsy and not for the male gaze. The film also holds several parallels with Diego Lerman's Tan De Repente, one of my favourite queer films of all time (which, criminally, is not available to stream online). Available on The Criterion Collection.
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Nadine Labaki’s Caramel takes place in a beauty salon in Beirut - the title is a reference to a sugar waxing method - and centres on the lives and loves of the beauticians working there. Rima, is queer and falls for one of her regulars — but what’s really queer about this set-up is the way Rima’s desire is expressed non-verbally through gaze and touch, years before Céline Sciamma explored similar intimate territory in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Available on Amazon Prime.
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Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman made history when it came out in 1996, the first feature film directed by a Black lesbian. Today, it stands out as a lesson in the importance of film as a tool for representation, with its meta plot seeing the filmmaker protagonist (also played by Dunye) uncovering a hidden Black lesbian history through a documentary film project. The Watermelon Woman should be at the top of everyone’s watchlists but, with its exploration of racist microaggressions in biracial relationships, it’s a particularly vital reminder for white queer people, exploring the ways that we can cause harm within LGBTQIA+ communities in myriad ways. Available on Amazon Prime.
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Revolving around a family of scammers whose twisted parent-child dynamic is compromised when they cross paths with a peppy girl next door (played by Gina Rodriguez), Kajillionaire is queer in thought-provoking ways that go beyond the literal. What specifically interested me, however, was Evan Rachel Wood’s character, Old Dolio. With a soft masculinity and off-kilter style, OD is the kind of heartthrob I wish I’d seen in films growing up. Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube.
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Probably the sexiest film on this list, Bound has everything you could want from a queer film: leather dykes and femme fatales. Tapping into the film noir mode, it has the feel of David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive, but ten times easier to make sense of what’s going on. And it’s directed by the Wachowski sisters who, as well as giving us the Matrix franchise, would go onto create cult queer sci-fi series Sense8. Available on Amazon Prime.
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Currently, there is so much discourse around Pride around whether or not kink and BDSM communities belong there (a debate which overlooks decades and decades of queer subculture and history). Partly because I want to send off these kinds of puritanical attitudes, The Duke of Burgundy, about a lesbian dominant-submissive relationship, is a must-watch queer film. Available on BFI Player.
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Sam Feder’s documentary Disclosure takes an exhaustive look at how trans people have been represented on screen, showing how our perceptions of the community have been shaped by media tropes. Featuring major trans actors and filmmakers like MJ Rodriguez, Chella Man, Jamie Clayton and Lily Wachowski, it gives trans people in the entertainment industry a space to share their own personal experiences, while emphasizing the importance of uplifting authentic trans stories in cinema and beyond. Available on Netflix.
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Barry Jenkins’ ground-breaking, Oscar-winning film about a young, gay, Black man couldn’t be further from my own experience but, among all the fluff and pretentious festival fare I’ve seen over the years, it rekindled my initial love of cinema by evidencing its power to express the complex emotions when words feel superfluous. Available on Amazon Prime and BFI Player.
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Around its release in 2015, Tangerine generated a lot of attention for being shot completely on an iPhone 5 (a feat which, today, doesn’t seem so news-worthy). Aside from this, what’s really compelling about the fast-paced comedy-drama, which sees lead characters Alexandra and Sin-Dee tear around LA on Christmas Eve, are the performances from Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, two trans actresses who I hope to see again on the big screen soon. If ever you’re looking to queer up Christmas, this is what you should be watching. Available on Amazon Prime.
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