Queer Cinema Crash Course
I come from a family of cinephiles. Growing up, my parents impressed on me the importance of film as a window to the world. I spent a lot of my time watching classic and foreign films and learning how to analyze them both as a filmmaker and as a human being.
I am also queer, and though I've been out for a long time, I began to really explore the meaning of my identity a few years ago. In 2018, I began compiling a list of queer films I’d watched and wanted to recommend, and dubbed it the Queer Cinema Crash Course.
It was a project born not only out of a desire to expand my own horizons in the realm of queer cinema, but also partially in response to various mainstream roundups of "Essential Queer Cinema", which usually (conveniently) featured the same five or so tragic gay romances between beautiful cis white men; movies that garnered mainstream attention, that just about everyone has already heard of, typically all made within the past 5-10 years.
I find that particular definition of what queer cinema "is" to be offensively reductive and not reflective of the true diversity of the worldwide queer diaspora. I knew there were amazing movies -- classic movies, foreign films, low budget student films and shorts, works that are dismissed as "trash" or "camp" -- that reflected the lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ people (yes, every letter!) all over the world, that were consistently being overlooked in discussions of what qualified as important queer cinema. What would a list that included all of those overlooked films be like? When I couldn't find one, I decided to make it a reality.
In compiling this list, the most critical thing to me was to present a canon of queer cinema from around the globe, spanning the history of film as a medium, that would present a multitude of stories reflective of the true diversity of queer life. I wanted to create an ongoing resource that would exist for folks who are new to watching queer cinema and looking for a place to start, as well as those who've seen many queer films and wanted more options (particularly some choices they may not have heard of). As "queer cinema" can also be an extremely personal and subjective thing, I must also note that this list is simply my own attempt at defining it. Furthermore, I believe it's crucial to remember when looking at the entire history of film that even movies that do not contain overt queer representation can speak to a queer person's experiences in a powerful way -- hence the inclusion of some films on this list that are not traditionally considered "queer".
Today, I'm proud to say that the list contains nearly 200 entries. It spans over 100 years of film history (the earliest entry is a German silent film from 1919), represents a wide variety of genres (everything from surrealist art house films to period melodramas to gory slashers), and includes works mainstream and obscure (and everything in between) by filmmakers all over the world. This broad list endeavors to paint a picture of the realities of being queer across space and time; in doing so, it seeks to create a canon that moves beyond the obvious to encompass the extraordinary, the mundane, the uncomfortable, the beautiful -- the realm of being human, of being queer, of being a life on Earth.
It's tough for me to recommend just a few films from the list, but here are a few I think are essential, in no particular order:
- Dakan (1997, dir. Mohamed Camara)
- Sylvia Scarlett (1935, dir. George Cukor)
- Tropical Malady (2004, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
- Querelle (1982, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
- Tongues Untied (1989, dir. Marlon Riggs)
- Blue (1993, dir. Derek Jarman)
- Shakedown (2018, dir. Leilah Weinraub)
- Victim (1961, dir. Basil Dearden)
- Happy Together (1997, dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
- Je, tu, il, elle (1974, dir. Chantal Akerman)
- Saving Face (2004, dir. Alice Wu)
- Parting Glances (1986, dir. Bill Sherwood)
- Borderline (1930, dir. Kenneth Macpherson)
- Knife+Heart (2018, dir. Yann Gonzalez)
- The Watermelon Woman (1996, dir. Cheryl Dunye)
- The Gospel According to Matthew (1964, dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini)
(Sidenote: I particularly recommend the entire filmographies of the trailblazing Marlon Riggs, Derek Jarman, and Cheryl Dunye, whose contributions to queer cinema are massively important and often undervalued.)
This list is hand-curated and constantly updated by me, and I'm always looking for more! As a bonus, each entry includes a quote from the film in the notes. I have seen each movie in the Queer Cinema Crash Course and I always love to talk about them! If you have questions, comments, or want to suggest a film you think should be added, please reach out to me @muinil on Twitter.