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For the LGBTQ+ community, films have long been a vehicle for challenging social oppression and isolation. In turn, furthering inclusion and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community’s vibrant place in history, art, and culture. Leading to a cinematic journey that not only reflects the history of the people at its heart but celebrates the role of individuals and communities in the fight for broader representation.
Cinema has helped build a broader public understanding of the lives of LGBTQ+ people while exploring some of the most challenging and heart-breaking events in the communities’ global history. The silver screen reflecting and representing a community, often kept silent and hidden from view, with cinema helping to build both individual and community confidence in sharing stories, coming out and expressing pride.
However, it is only recently in cinema that confidence has grown, and even now, studios often openly censor the content to appease global markets. Therefore the journey of LGBTQ+ cinema is far from over; the role of films alongside theatre and art remaining central to furthering inclusion. So join us in celebrating some of the films that made us laugh, cry and reflect on the LGBTQ+ journey. While, in turn, building bridges that have furthered inclusion and equality.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
On its release Brokeback Mountain unfairly found itself labelled as a ‘Gay Cowboy’ movie. In reality, this label could not be further from the truth lying at the heart of Ang Lee’s groundbreaking film. After all, here is a film that directly but delicately challenges themes of rural masculinity, reflecting an America where gay relationships sat in plain view all the time, hidden by fear and community segregation. While at the same time demonstrating how the hidden and forbidden of Enis and Jack ripples through the lives both men choose to create. Their bond of love haunting every attempt made to ‘move on’ or accept the male image imposed upon them. The rugged and often hostile wilderness surrounding them open to their love, while their town’s apparent safety and security holds nothing but fear.
Brokeback Mountain not only rewrote the hidden rulebook of LGBTQ+ cinema but challenged the homophobia of small-town rural America. Its premiere just six years after the horrendous murder of Matthew Shepard a powerful statement and challenge to toxic masculinity and hate. Simultaneously, paving the way for a whole new generation of movies where gay love was no longer off-limits in mainstream film.
Andrew Haigh’s Weekend feels documentary-like in both its realism and focus, providing us with a film that challenges the very boundaries of LGBTQ storytelling as it encapsulates the real-life experience of many gay men in finding love, belonging and partnership. Filmed on a meagre budget in the city of Nottingham. Weekend centres on a one-night stand, and the burgeoning reality it might provide more than pure physical enjoyment for Russell and Glen. With sex moving on to the delicate confines of early conversation and connection. As Russell and Glen begin to stumble into the realms of a much deeper connection. One built on shared experience, fear of commitment and excitement.
There is something uniquely intimate in Haigh’s film, a trait that would continue in both 45 Years and Lean on Pete—providing a realism, intensity and journey that never hides the complexities, fun and fear of first meetings. While at the same time embracing the fleeting ability of sex to transition into love and belonging.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
You may think that a film based on male prostitution would focus on sex. But Gus Van Sant’s 1991 picture does not wrap itself in stereotypical themes of prostitution and sexuality. My Own Private Idaho plays with Shakespeare’s Henry IV part I and II. At the same time, placing its central characters into the urban bustle and rural beauty of Portland, Oregon. Dovetailing the freedom of wide-open landscapes with a suffocating yet intoxicating cityscape. Scott (Keanu Reeves) and Mike (River Phoenix) care for each other, sharing their hopes and dreams in a nuanced mesh of male love and unrequited longing.
Idaho takes us on an unforgettable journey of love in the midst of hurt, companionship and a dream-like need for belonging and safety. As a result, creating one of the finest LGBTQ films of the past 30 years.
Show Me Love (1998)
Lukas Moodyssons debut feature is both a touching and beautifully performed portrait of emerging sexuality. As the fledgeling love of two young girls in the small backwater Swedish town of Åmål butts up against a working-class community’s restrictive culture and traditions. At the same time as the hidden desires and belonging of emerging female sexuality explode with potent sensuality. Show Me Love reflects the feelings of community imprisonment all LGBTQ young people experience. Their wings clipped just as their bodies and minds take flight in towns of limited potential.
Celine Sciamma’s follow up to Water Lilies beautifully explores gender identity, freedom of choice and coming of age without hidden agendas. Following 10-year-old Laure as she moves with her family to a new suburban neighbourhood in France. Her refusal to conform to the images of girlhood that surround her represented by a wish to dress as a boy. However, Laurie’s image and identity become more complicated in meeting a new friend Lisa, who believes she is a boy. Laurie, adopting the name Michael to conform to Lisa’s pre-conceptions.
Tomboy is a beautiful exploration of innocence, identity and perception. Never seeking to define the outcome for Laurie or her creation of Michael. Instead, Tomboy asks the audience to accept the need for self-expression of identity during childhood, wherever that may lead to in adolescence.