Written by Amber Jackson |
The history of queer film hasn’t been very uplifting in the past. Once gay characters started to appear to previously naive/ignorant audiences, film often included negative representations of LGBT+ characters as murderers, abusers, or even demons, to portray a group of troubled and toxic individuals, infecting the minds of a wider audience. Gay people were often the butt of every joke, made the villain, or even killed within the film world, displaying a deeply negative mind-set.
But LGBT+ representation has also been problematic in recent years, with TV series using Queerbaiting techniques to hint at, but not depict a same-sex relationship and catering to the #BuryYourGays movement – a trend which often sees gay characters being killed off. There are many troubling and bleak LGBT+ films out there, but there are also beautiful, loving and transformative ones – more so as we travel further into the 21st Century and experience ground-breaking changes to laws and attitudes.
Here are just a few of the best LGBT+ films that have a positive – or at least a hopeful – end.
- Pride (2014)
This brilliantly witty and tender film is based on a real-life group of young gay people fighting for the rights of British Miners, whilst simultaneously fighting for themselves. Guided from the perspective of closeted Joe (George MacKay), the audience is exposed to the community as a young gay person would be, with equal measures of hope and anxiety. We are immediately thrust into 1980s Britain, where politics and society are at war with each other, yet share a common enemy in Prime-Minister Margaret Thatcher. Both communities band together and campaign and fight for their voices to be heard and ultimately prevail. Being based on real events makes this film exceptionally powerful, as it demonstrates how far Britain has come regarding gay rights in the last thirty years alone. Included in the telling of this story are notable stars such as Imelda Stanton, Bill Nighy and Paddy Considine – every character being incredibly unique and having their own individual story to tell.
- Carol (2015)
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 romance novel ‘The Price of Salt,’ this film beautifully depicts two women falling in love in 1950s America. This fascinating storyline was originally wrought with obsession and enamourment and Phyllis Nagy brilliantly incorporates this into her subtle screenplay (having first developed it in 1997) that depicts love as simultaneously forbidden, erotic, tender and inevitable. Characters Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) are nuanced with public feeling, yet powerful in private action. To put it simply, the film includes Christmas, Cate Blanchett, lesbian love and a happy ending – what more can I say to convince you to see it, if you haven’t already?!
- Saving Face (2004)
Sincere, sassy and wonderfully sweet. Saving Facefollows a young Chinese woman called Wil (Michelle Krusiec) as she navigates her new love with Vivian (Lynn Chen), her work as a surgeon and trying to support her traditionalist Mother (Joan Chen) who is also struggling to find acceptance within the Chinese community that she has always known in America. Directed by Alice Wu, this bilingual film politely and delicately tackles taboo in its own way – by being beautifully witty and boldly romantic. It comments on what it’s like to be a Chinese-American, when dealing with societal issues such as sexuality, accidental pregnancy and career expectations. This film is incredibly heart-warming and well worth a watch.
- Imagine Me and You (2005)
Starring Piper Perabo and Lena Headey, this British film is about two women who run into each other at the most awkward moments and can’t seem to stop meeting until they inevitably fall in love. Rachel (Perabo) first meets Luce (Headey) at her wedding, where she has just married her teenage sweetheart Heck (Matthew Goode) and can’t explain why she feels instantly drawn to this seemingly random woman. The film deals with Rachel’s questioning of her sexuality, whilst trying to navigate everyone else in her life. Ultimately, there is happiness, humour and the knowledge of meeting the person that you know is just right for you.
- Better than Chocolate (1999)
A Canadian Rom-Com that’s a bit racy, but very diverse! This film situates many varying characters with a whole range of gender identities, trans* identities and sexualities. Some attitudes may be a little dated in comparison to today, but the film itself is incredibly uplifting, despite the adversity that its characters must overcome. There is a sense of a community widening, as LGBT+ allies are introduced, and these characters begin to understand the challenges and the negativity that their friends are experiencing. Ultimately, the message of this film is sexual liberation, freedom of expression and the bitter-sweetness of romance.
- If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000)
At the turn of the century, this film displays a wide range of ladies loving ladies, whilst commenting on how far LGBT+ rights have come throughout the twentieth century. There are three separate timelines with three different lesbian couples: one in the 1960s, where they are dealing with issues of secrecy and mourning – one in the 1970s, where feminism and gender identities are focused on – and one in 2000, situating a couple that are trying to have a baby via a sperm donor. It stars high-profile women such as Vanessa Redgrave, Michelle Williams, Ellen Degeneres and Sharon Stone and is very representational of different trials that different women, in the community, must face. The best part about watching this film, eighteen years after it was released, is seeing how much further the world has come since then, with regards to LGBT+ rights. The film has an emotional start, but a very uplifting end!
- The Way He Looks (short film version, 2014)
Based on the 2010 film I Don’t Want to go Back Alone, this Brazilian film depicts Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind teenager, who wants to be independent. His friendship with his best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim) is the initial tear-jerker, as they are supportive of one another, whilst talking candidly about their feelings. When Gabriel (Fabio Audi) joins their school, him and Leo grow close when they have to complete a school project together. This charming, yet realistic coming-of-age story is heart-warming enough to make you cry, witty enough to make you laugh, and makes you consider a different perspective of the LGBT+ community: one that is international and one that features a blind protagonist. There is a short film version and also a full feature-length version of this film.
- Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)
A positive independent film about a woman experimenting with her sexuality. Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt), who hasn’t had luck with dating men, tries going on a date with a woman to see if it’s any better. She meets Helen (Heather Juergensen), a bisexual art gallerist and the two of them immediately have romantic chemistry. However, Jessica struggles with intimacy, which ultimately causes her to clash with Helen, who is incredibly candid. Despite not having a clichéd and romantic end, the two women remain close. The film explores issues surrounding self-discovery, self-confidence and self-acceptance.
- But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Includes both gay and lesbian characters, but chooses to focus on Megan (Natasha Lyonne), who is told that she’s a lesbian and is consequently sent to a boot-camp which hopes to alter her sexual orientation. However, once she’s there, she begins to have feelings for another girl (played by Clea DuVall). The biting satire of this film mocks homophobic conventions and plays on stereotypical ideas that others have of LGBT+ people in a way that isn’t offensive, but makes the audience consider the message. This film is extremely funny and, fun fact: RuPaul is in it!
- A homage to all positive representation in film of the LGBT+ community.
There are so many more positive LGBT+ films out there. The representation and positive message that these films convey shine a light on the more hopeful aspects of the LGBT+ community and its history.
If you want to know more about the history of gay representation in film, the 1996 documentary ‘The Celluloid Closet’ is well worth a watch.
Other uplifting LGBT+ films that have previously been reviewed by The Anchor:
- Moonlight (2016) – https://www.falmouth-anchor.co.uk/2018/03/09/review-moonlight/
- Love, Simon (2018) – https://www.falmouth-anchor.co.uk/2018/04/09/review-love-simon/