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What are the best films and TV shows about LGBTIQ lives?

Nominations for the 2021 Golden Globes have been criticised by LGBTIQ rights advocates for what they’ve included and excluded. Watch these instead

Teddy Wilson
Teddy Wilson
26 February 2021, 12.00am
Writer Tarell Alvin McCraney (left) and director Barry Jenkins with their Oscars for ‘Moonlight’ at the 2017 Academy Awards
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Ian West/PA Archive/PA Images

The Golden Globes have been criticised, again, for including “offensive” portrayals of minorities and for excluding Black voices.

Actors up for awards at a gala event on Sunday 28 February include James Corden, whose portrayal of a gay man in the film ‘The Prom’ was slammed by LGBTIQ viewers for being “aggressively flamboyant” and “stereotypical”. Others questioned why a gay man wasn’t cast in the role (Corden is straight).

Critics have also targeted the exclusion from the nominations’ lists of the highly acclaimed TV series ‘I May Destroy You’, created, written and directed by – and starring – Black British actor Michaela Coel. The Los Angeles Times revealed how the awards’ judging panel, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, doesn’t have even one Black member.

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Cultural representation of diversity matters. And so this weekend, why not take a look at the films and TV shows on our alternative must-watch list? All have been recommended by LGBTIQ writers and activists.

Let us know in the comment thread below, or on Twitter (@5050od) if you have other suggestions to add to this list.

‘Moonlight’ (2016 film)

Nominated by queer liberation and reproductive justice advocate Quita Tinsley Peterson (they/them)

‘Moonlight’ is, without a doubt, one of the best representations of LGBTIQ folks in film. Queerness has all too often been synonymous with whiteness, especially in its media depictions. But ‘Moonlight’ disrupts this notion by seamlessly and beautifully weaving queerness and Blackness as it tells the life story of Chiron. I also love this film because it’s a queer coming of age story, and a beautiful ode to Black Southern life. The golds and box Chevys are important details that Black folks from the South recognise immediately, while those who don’t share our lived experience may not even notice them.

The film also narrates the fullness and complexity of who Chiron/Little/Black is, was and imagines himself to be, through its use of lighting, music and non-verbal intimacy. Although they may seem like minor details, they are powerful because of the ways in which they centre Blackness. Opening the film with the song ‘Every N*gger is a Star’ is a declarative statement of whose story this is. And the intimacy and vulnerability we see between Black men and boys, whether familial or romantic, is so tender and beautiful.

‘Moonlight’ is an amazing film that continues to burst open my Black, queer and Southern heart every time I watch it. I know its beauty and nuance will allow many people to witness themselves on screen in a brilliant new way for years to come.

‘Black Mirror’ (2011–19 TV series)

Nominated by activist and network security expert Chelsea Manning (she/they)

I recommend ‘San Junipero’, the fourth episode of the third season of the British anthology series ‘Black Mirror’. This long-form standalone piece is a powerful representation of a queer relationship within the larger speculative/science fiction world of ‘Black Mirror’. The two main characters – Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Kelly and Mackenzie Davis as Yorkie – explore a queer relationship through what is later revealed to the viewer as a kind of virtual-reality retirement home set in 1987 (with some not-so-distant future world outside) conducting ‘nostalgia therapy’.

The story examines age, differing histories, sexuality and different social eras. Personally, I find this episode striking and have watched it several times simply as a complex queer love story between two women in a ‘just-so-happens-to-be’ sci-fi and transhuman setting. Additionally, the love that’s shown in this video game-like world between the two aging characters exploring a second youth contrasts greatly with the often dark, extremely pessimistic and nihilistic world of ‘Black Mirror’ as a whole.

I find many of the scenes powerful, touching and transcendental. I love rewatching ‘San Junipero’.

‘I Like Girls’ (2016 animated short)

Nominated by openDemocracy’s Global Investigations Fellow Lou Ferreira (she/her)

‘I Like Girls’ isn’t so much one love story as an ode to queer young love in its multiple forms – firsts and false starts and missed opportunities. It’s an animated short – just eight minutes long (you could watch it right now!) – by Diane Obomsawin, a cartoonist, animator and writer of Abenaki descent based in Quebec, Canada. Four LGBTIQ women recall their first loves: the yearning and rejection, the relatable clumsiness and unspoken feelings, how exciting and beautiful it can be.

It’s adapted from a longer comic by Obomsawin with the same premise (and an additional six anecdotes). Her illustration style is so cool; she represents the characters with these endearing anthropomorphic creatures that vary from story to story and forefront the playfulness and humour in these women’s experiences. It’s poignant and uplifting and another necessary intervention in a film landscape that so often sidelines queer joy – and rarely gives us happy endings. I love it!

‘Six Feet Under’ (2001–05 TV series)

Nominated by Northwestern University, Illinois research assistant professor Ricky Hill (they/them)

My favourite television show of all time is HBO’s ‘Six Feet Under’. I was still in undergrad when it debuted and my roommate Phil’s mom would record episodes on VHS and send the tapes to us in Santa Fe, New Mexico. SFU introduced me to the actor Michael C. Hall – best known now as Showtime’s ‘Dexter’, but who will always live in my heart as David Fisher, the uptight, closeted funeral director embodying every cringey middle child stereotype.

I love Hall’s portrayal of a socially conservative, emotionally stunted gay man struggling to reconcile his faith and sense of self with his queer attractions. One of the more painful moments of David’s character development occurs in the first season when he is arrested in Las Vegas, caught in a parking garage having sex with a sex worker. David’s internalised homophobia is externalised, and the shame he navigates in subsequent episodes sticks clearly in my mind twenty years later. Watching David’s character arc over SFU’s five seasons is nuanced and painful and worth revisiting – or seeing for the first time, of course!

‘She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’ (2018–20 animated series)

Nominated by writer and journalist Chrissy Stroop (she/her)

When it comes to queer representation in film and television, children’s programming has been making remarkable strides in recent years. In this category, Noelle Stevenson’s animated ‘She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’ reboot (Netflix) takes the proverbial gay birthday cake. Stevenson has been open about how she had to gradually build to explicit on-screen same-sex romance, setting things up in such a way that it would become inevitable despite any network reticence.

While the show is heavily queer-coded from the beginning, its LGBTIQ representation first becomes overt when we meet the two dads of Bow – one of the best friends of the protagonist Adora – and culminates in a moving lesbian romance between Adora and sometime antagonist Catra, who share a beautiful on-screen kiss. Along the way, we get to know an important character for whom all the other characters immediately and fluently use they/them pronouns. We also meet a minor male character who was female in the original 1980s ‘She-Ra’, and whom viewers and critics widely understood to be a trans man.

One of the most striking features is just how taken for granted and thoroughly normal queerness is in the She-Ra universe, which I find hopeful. A world in which queer people can exist freely as ourselves without stigma and discrimination is a long way off, but using animation as a vehicle to create a vivid and compelling imaginary world in which no one bats an eye over same-sex love or non-binary pronouns is surely a step in the right direction.

‘Shelter’ (2007 film)

Nominated by freelance theatre director Andrew Roblyer (he/him)

When I came out, the first gay male romances I saw on screen were soap operas, full of ‘will they, won’t they’, physical injury and so much more drama. While that resonated with my own sense of internal turmoil, discovering the film ‘Shelter’ was the first time I saw a same-sex romance on screen with a truly happy ending.

It is a genuine story about family, love and acceptance that includes some challenges of self-acceptance and coming out, but doesn’t make them the focus of the story. The main character is part of a non-traditional family from a low-income area, with a young nephew who looks up to him like a father; all of this informs his understanding of himself and makes the story feel, for lack of a better term, so much more real. It has a gentle, steady feel that emulates the seaside and surfing culture that is the backdrop to the film. It never fails to put a smile on my face.

In the modern day, there are so many great portrayals of the diversity of the LGBTQ+ spectrum on film and TV, but ‘Shelter’ came at a time when there really wasn’t, and it still stands as a refreshing portrayal of the possibilities of love between two men.

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