11 Black LGBT Films That Keep Pride Alive
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Film , Features

11 Black LGBT Films That Keep Pride Alive

Pride Month is nearly over, but that doesn’t mean the celebrations have to stop! While Hollywood could do better when it comes to portraying black LGBT life on a broad scale, there are still many films featuring black LGBT stories. All of which can entertain and inspire viewers to become more compassionate, loving and full of pride in their identity. Check out our list of 11 films that'll keep Pride Month going all year long.

Kinky Boots (2005)

kinky boots

Kinky Boots can be considered a film that acts as an LGBT primer for straight audiences. This is because so much of it is centered around Joel Edgerton's character, Charlie, the (straight) owner of a shoe company falling into financial oblivion which is then brought a unique proposition: making shoes for drag queens. Despite this, the film is still a fun, mostly lighthearted tale about two people who wouldn’t have ordinarily come together, Charlie and his unlikely drag queen partner-in-crime Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), to create something new and magical. Not only does the new line of shoes help Charlie’s failing business, but it also teaches him and his small English town about the power of acceptance and compassion for people different than them.

Thanks to the charming performances from the cast, most notably the standout performance of Ejiofor, Kinky Boots became an instant classic and is now thriving as a fan-favorite musical on Broadway. The role of Lola has been played by notables such as Billy Porter, who now shines in FX’s Pose, comedian Wayne Brady, and Todrick Hall, who can now be seen on VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race.

To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar (1995)

To Wong Foo

Another film that could be considered a primer of sorts is To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar (usually just shortened to To Wong Foo). Starring Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo as three New York drag queens, the film follows their attempt to make it across the country to the Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant in Hollywood. Unfortunately, their car breaks down, and they encounter a racist, sexist and homophobic sheriff before entering a small town that seems like it could be just as terrible. However, the trio ends up transforming the hearts and minds of the townspeople, save a woman from her abusive husband and run the sheriff out of the town.

The film also features cameos from transgender actress Candis Cayne and legendary drag queens from the New York Ball scene including Flotilla DeBarge, Miss Coco Peru, Lady Bunny, Joey Arias, Miss Understood and RuPaul herself.

Holiday Heart (2000)

Holiday Heart

Holiday Heart is a TV movie directed by Robert Townsend and stars Ving Rhames as the titular character, a gay man who performs as a drag queen. After suffering tragedy in his life, he befriends Wanda, a drug-addicted woman (Alfre Woodard) and her daughter, Niki (Jesika Reynolds), and realizes how much Niki needs stability and security in her life.

The film is a heart-gripping story about loss, love and redemption. Even though parts of the film’s ending are quite bleak, the relationship between Niki and Holiday Heart shows not only how important family is but how a parent or guardian’s love can shape a child for better or worse.

Set It Off (1996)

Set It Off

Set It Off, directed by F. Gary Gray, had an indelible impact on film culture at the time of its release and decades afterward. There’s no way it couldn’t have a huge impact, what with its star-studded cast, including Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox, Blair Underwood, Ella Joyce and Dr. Dre.

The film focuses on a group of women who feel disrespected by their jobs and life. After suffering losses, they feel like it’s high time they try to take back what's theirs by committing bank robberies. Of course, the heists end up getting them on the radar of the police. But the group’s crimes foster a sense of sisterhood and commiseration that, right or wrong, led the film to be compared to Waiting to Exhale and Thelma and Louise.

Latifah’s character, Cleo, is particularly notable because of her sexuality. Latifah identified her character as a lesbian in an Essence interview, saying the role was her hardest one to do. “When I got the role of amateur bank robber Cleo Sims in Set It Off, I sat down with my younger siblings and told them, 'Listen, I'm playing a gay character. Your classmates might tease you or say negative things about it. But I'm doing it because I believe I can bring positive attention to the gay African-American community, and I believe that I can do a great job as an actor,’” she said. “They understood, and when those things inevitably happened in school, they were OK with it.”

Mystère à la Tour Eiffel (2015)

Mystère à la Tour Eiffel

You might not have heard of this one, and it’s pretty difficult to find, but if you can watch French TV film Mystère à la Tour Eiffel, it’ll be an experience you won’t forget. I mean, when was the last time you saw a film about an interracial same-sex couple in Victorian-era France solving a murder mystery?

Louise Massart (Marie Denarnaud), the daughter of one of the architects of the Eiffel Tower, is framed for a murder that has taken place at her father’s creation. Needing to clear her name, she and magician’s assistant Henriette (Aïssa Maïga) work together to find the real murderer. And of course, they find love along the way.

The film has everything period-piece fanatics love: huge gowns, intricate hair and all of the antique trappings of the 1800s. It also gives viewers a new way to look at a time that is often straight-washed and whitewashed. The only problem is that it’s hard to find this film! It has become a bit of a cult classic among Tumblr fans, and thankfully, some lovely soul on Tumblr uploaded it (along with creating English subtitles) so more people can view this unicorn for themselves.

Bessie (2015)

Bessie

Once again Queen Latifah stars in a pivotal role for LGBT representation. This time, she’s starring as blues singer Bessie Smith in the HBO biopic Bessie. The film is directed by Dee Rees, a black lesbian who, like Lena Waithe, is adamant about bringing the experiences of LGBT African-Americans to the screen.

Bessie, like all good biopics, shows the rise and fall of the woman known as “The Empress of the Blues,” but it also showcases Bessie’s bisexuality in her relationships with her lovers, Lucille (Tika Sumpter) and Richard Morgan (Mike Epps), and her husband and manager Jack Gee (Michael K. Williams). The film gives a complete picture of Smith’s life instead of just one portion of it. And because of its story and its incredible performances, Bessie became HBO’s most watched original movie of all time, to date.

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

The-Watermelon-Woman

The Watermelon Woman, written, directed, edited and starring Cheryl Dunye (who is now a director on OWN’s Queen Sugar), is a history-maker; it’s the first feature film to be directed by a black lesbian.

Dunye plays a young black lesbian who is working in a video store to make ends meet while trying to make a film about a 1930s black actress who played “mammy” roles. The film stemmed from Dunye’s research about black actresses from the 1930s, whose parts often went uncredited. More specifically, the film focuses on how black queer actors and stories were often ignored and how navigating archival records in attempts to look for those stories can be excruciating.

The film also features appearances from notable figures in the queer art scene such as black feminist community activist, poet, and educator Cheryl Clarke, as well as writer and AIDS historian Sarah Schulman, social critic Camille Paglia and writer David Rakoff.

Tangerine (2015)

Tangerine

This Sundance darling from modern neorealist Sean Baker (The Florida Project), became a historical moment in American film history for launching the first Academy Awards campaigns for openly transgender actresses. Unfortunately, the film’s stars, Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, weren’t nominated. However, Tangerine was a critical favorite, garnering an impressive 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and being called a “stylistic tour-de-force” by A.V. Wire’s Seth Malvín Romero.

Spectacularly shot on three iPhones, Tangerine focuses on Sin-Dee Rella (Rodriguez), a trans sex worker who has just gotten released from prison after a 28-day sentence. She's told by Alexandra (Taylor), her friend and another trans sex worker, that her boyfriend/pimp, Chester (James Ransone), is cheating on her with a cisgender woman. The two set off on a wild time of trying to find the woman breaking up Sin-Dee’s relationship and confronting Chester about his infidelity.

Despite failing to win Oscar love, Tangerine racked up tons of awards throughout its year, including awards for Taylor’s performance as a breakthrough actress (Gotham Independent Film Awards) and Best Supporting Actress (San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award).  

Pariah (2011)

Pariah

Pariah put Dee Rees on the mainstream map, and, one could argue that it might be her most personal film, as she's described it as semi-autobiographical.

The film focuses on Alike (Adepero Oduye), a 17-year-old girl who is coming into herself as a lesbian. Not only does Alike have to contend with her internal processes, but she also has to worry about how her parents, especially her mother (Kim Wayans), will view her if she decides to come out.

The film earned a 93 percent fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes and widespread critical acclaim and numerous awards. But what may be most interesting here is that Pariah prompted some parental reconciliation behind-the-scenes. Like Rees, producer Nekisa Cooper said the film was semi-autobiographical. So much so that, when she took her parents to see Pariah, there was finally the opportunity for real understanding.

“[A]fterward my father stood up and had tears in his eyes. They understood Alike's angst more--and my angst, coincidentally--after having seen the movie,” Cooper said to NPR. “And my father apologized for some of the things he said when I came out to them."

The Skinny (2012)

The Skinny

Patrik-Ian Polk, the creator of the seminal TV show Noah’s Arc, is behind The Skinny, a romantic dramedy starring Empire star Jussie Smollett. In the film, Smollett stars as Magnus, one of five college friends--four gay men and one lesbian--who relive old times while meeting up at a New York Pride weekend.

The film features several well-known LGBT and gender non-conforming actors and personalities, including Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and Wilson Cruz (both of whom have also appeared on Noah’s Arc) and B. Scott, as well as other notables like Oz and Nurse Jackie star Seth Gilliam and Def Poetry performer/mental health advocate Bassey Ikpi.

Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom (2008)

Noah's Arc Jumping the Broom

Polk’s legendary LOGO television show about the love lives of black and Latino gay men reached its zenith in the film Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom. The film is a continuation of the series in which Noah (Darryl Stephens) and Wade (Jensen Atwood) plan to marry in Martha’s Vineyard. However, their friends’ issues and the reappearance of Noah’s former flame, British rapper Baby Gat (Jason Steed), nearly cause Wade and Noah’s relationship to disintegrate.

The film itself was a shock to the system for those in Hollywood at the time since the film opened No. 1 at the independent box office and had tremendous fan support, rivaling the Clint Eastwood/Angelina Jolie drama Changeling in terms of weekend per screen averages (Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom averaged $30,336 while Changeling garnered $32,601).