Loud and proud: Must-see films for Pride month viewing 

click to enlarge Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in "Tangerine."


Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in "Tangerine."

Pride month gives members of the LGBTQ community an opportunity to come together and pay tribute to our collective history and celebrate the strides we’ve made in terms of visibility and acceptance over the years.

Technically, June is when Pride gets celebrated nationwide, but in Rochester it’s always held in July. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, so unfortunately we won’t get to gather for any public events or the traditional parade, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate from home.

We have the ImageOut Film Festival to look forward to in October, but to  commemorate the occasion now, CITY has put together a watchlist as diverse as the LGBTQA+ community itself, and bound to get you in the Pride spirit.

“All About My Mother” (1999)
No list of LGBTQA+ cinema would be complete without at least one film by Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar, and this one is arguably the most widely-known. It’s also the first of his films I ever saw, so it holds a special place in my heart. The filmmaker’s trademark flourishes are here in abundance: heightened melodrama, bold colors, and diverse sexualities, all in service of a heartfelt tribute to motherhood in its many forms.

“BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (2017)
Robin Campillo’s exhilarating film focuses on the members of AIDS activist group ACT UP in early 1990s Paris. Its story, about young people fighting for their right to exist while building a life for themselves amidst protest, makes for an impassioned, heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful drama.

“But I’m a Cheerleader” (1999)
This cult-classic satirical comedy stars Natasha Lyonne as a teen sent off by her parents to conversion therapy camp. It doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but director Jamie Babbit turns a deadly serious topic into candy-colored comedy, with a fantastic ensemble cast.

“Carol” (2015)
A young department store clerk in 1950s Manhattan meets and falls for a beautiful older woman in Todd Haynes' loving adaptation of the novel "The Price of Salt" by Patricia Highsmith. Fantastic performances from Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett anchor this sumptuously moody romance.

“God’s Own Country” (2017)
This rugged romance from filmmaker Francis Lee revolves around the blossoming love between a closed-off farmer in rural Yorkshire and a Romanian migrant worker. The juxtaposition between the intimacy of the story and the chilly environments creates an emotional power that sneaks up on you. It’ll leave you ready for Lee’s sophomore feature “Ammonite,” a love story starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan that’s due out sometime later this year.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001)
Adapting the musical he created, John Cameron Mitchell made an auspicious filmmaking debut with the raucous, toe-tapping story of transgender singer Hedwig, who emigrates from Berlin to America and reinvents herself as an irreverent glam rock diva.

“How to Survive a Plague” (2012)
Focusing on the early years of the AIDS epidemic, filmmaker David France’s eye-opening and emotional documentary uses powerful archival footage to chronicle the efforts of activist groups ACT UP and TAG to infiltrate the pharmaceutical industry and make a difference from inside.

“Moonlight” (2016)
For my money one of the finest Best Picture Oscar-winners we’ve ever had, Barry Jenkins’ tender, deeply empathetic film follows a young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life. Beautiful, emotional, and absolutely unforgettable.

“Pariah” (2011)
A Brooklyn teenager balances a straight-laced home life with her parents, and her more out-and-proud social life as she comes to terms with her sexuality. With her debut feature, writer-director Dee Rees finds a fresh and honest perspective on the coming-of-age narrative.

“Paris Is Burning” (1990)
Jennie Livingston’s wildly influential exploration of New York drag ball culture in the 1980s is both uplifting and heartbreaking as it shines a spotlight on a community who faced down unimaginable persecution to create wild, exuberant, and ultimately enduring art.

“Pride” (2014)
This historical drama tells the story of LGBTQ activists in the U.K. who joined forces with working-class miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984. Such a likable, crowd-pleasing gem that I’m still waiting for someone to smarten up and adapt it into a stage musical.

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” (2017)
Released the same year “Wonder Woman” took the box office by storm, this drama about the unconventional life of the character’s creator was unjustly overlooked both critically and commercially. Wrapping the rare mainstream depiction of bisexuality and polyamory in the trappings of a prestige biopic, writer-director Angela Robinson created a stealthily revolutionary film.

“Tangerine” (2015)
Following a day in the lives of two transgender sex workers (wonderfully played by Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) as they stomp their way down the streets of Los Angeles, Sean Baker’s film remains fresh, funny, and absolutely vital.

“Tongues Untied” (1989)
Filmmaker Marlon Riggs combines documentary and poetry, dance, and music performance to create this remarkable, experimental (and at the time, extremely controversial) portrait of Black, gay, male sexuality.

“Visible: Out on Television” (2020)

Released in February on Apple TV, this fascinating five-part documentary miniseries chronicles the history of LGBTQ representation in television. Exhaustively detailed and thoughtfully presented, this is an exceptional examination of the power of mass media.

“The Watermelon Woman” (1996)
The first feature film directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye’s romantic comedy is a landmark of LGBTQ cinema. But it’s also a charming, wildly entertaining delight. Dunye stars as a filmmaker who works as a video store clerk while pursuing her passion project: making a movie about a forgotten silent film actress of the 1930s, credited on screen only as The Watermelon Woman.

More Viewing:
“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
“Brokeback Mountain” (2005)
“The Celluloid Closet” (1995)
“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” (2017)
“Desert Hearts” (1985)
“A Fantastic Woman” (2017)
“Happy Together” (1997)
“Heavenly Creatures” (1994)
“My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985)
“My Own Private Idaho” (1991)
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019)
“The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984)
“Tropical Malady” (2004)
“Word is Out (1977)

Adam Lubitow is a freelance film critic for CITY. Feedback on this article can be sent to CITY's arts & entertainment editor, Rebecca Rafferty, at [email protected].

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