Film & TV Recs: LGBT Documentaries

I don’t know if you guys are aware, but the LGBT History Month is celebrated at different times in different countries. And in the UK it’s in February. Which I figured is a perfect reason for me to recommend you some documentaries. It’s actually always a good time to learn something about our history.

Like Larry Kramer said, “we are entitled to our history. We are entitled to know who these people were. I don’t think you can be a people until you have a history”.

There will most definitely be a part two to this rec list, since it’s in no way comprehensive, but still: below you will find ten titles I have seen (or found) recently. Enjoy, and happy learning! (And of course, sadly, a general tw of homophobia, transphobia, violence for almost all of those titles.)

inbtwn

Equal (2020-)

dir. Stephen Kijak & Kimberly Reed
IMDb

Why Should I Watch It?

This is truly one of a kind documentary. The whole formula is that they use archive footage whenever they possibly can, and then when there is none, they have (out!) LGBT actors play those iconic people to let us learn about them. And the whole thing is narrated by Billy Porter. But the most important part? The series talks about the less known LGBT activists, less popular ones, so to speak. So for example in the episode about Stonewall, they focus on Sylvia Rivera and others, not so much about Marsha.

inbtwn

Larry Kramer In Love & Anger (2018)

dir. Jean Carlomusto
Letterboxd

Why Should I Watch It?

Jumping from less known figures to one of the best known ones, but hey, why not. I already mentioned Larry in the intro. If you know anything at all about the AIDS crisis in the US, you already know about Larry. But this particular doc focuses more intensely on him as a person, on his impact on the LGBT community. It gives context to the dry facts you might already know.

inbtwn

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

dir. David France
Letterboxd

Why Should I Watch It?

And if we’re talking about the AIDS pandemic, we must of course mention this documentary. It might be an obvious choice, you might have already heard about it, but there’s a reason for it. And the reason is that it’s a very well made piece of media, and it will teach you way more than any textbook could. Since what’s better than hearing from the victims and people who fought to save them themselves?

inbtwn

United in Anger: A History of ACT UP (2012)

dir. Jim Hubbard
Letterboxd

Why Should I Watch It?

In a way, this feels like a companion documentary to How to Survive a Plague. I definitely recommend watching both of them, back to back. Like you might have guessed from the title, this one takes a slightly different approach to the subject, focuses on the people fighting the plague, not the plague itself. Which allows you to learn more, from different angles. And a really nice touch is a very clear timeline the documentary provides.

inbtwn

The Circle (2014)

dir. Stefan Haupt
Letterboxd

Why Should I Watch It?

We’re moving all the way to Switzerland, and the LGBT community there after the World War II. Did you know gay people from all over Europe would come to Switzerland for a fun weekend, because it was basically the only country not penalising homosexuality? It’s definitely important that gay history was happening everywhere, not just in the States. Also the movie serves as a history lesson, while also talking about a romantic relationship of two important guys, and personally I think that’s lovely.

inbtwn

The Celluloid Closet (1995)

dir. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Letterboxd

Why Should I Watch It?

It’s not possible to talk about a history of a community, without talking about how said community was portrayed on the screen. Based on the book with the same title by Vito Russo (an LGBT activist), it tells the story of homosexuality in Hollywood. It gives you the obvious examples you already knew about, but also background knowledge about LGBT movie creators sneaking in bits & pieces of themselves. Frankly in a lot of ways, it changes the way you look at movies.

inbtwn

Major! (2015)

dir. Annalise Ophelian
Letterboxd

Why Should I Watch It?

A biopic on Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a true trans icon. An activist whose focus always was on bipoc members of the community. And it’s not even the most important thing she achieved in all her decades of activism, but yes, she was part of the Stonewall Riots, although you wouldn’t hear about that with the way people only ever mention one person, maybe two.

inbtwn

Tongues Untied (1989)

dir. Marlon Riggs
Letterboxd

Why Should I Watch It?

Do you know Essex Hemphill? He was a Black, openly gay poet & an activist. He died of AIDS complications. (You might also want to read Hold Tight Gently by Martin Duberman to learn more about him). Tongues Untied shows Black men loving other men as what it is: an act of revolution in itself. It uses Hemphill’s poetry and other imagery to show the beauty of that love, the magic of it. The way that love helped to shape our world.

inbtwn

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

dir. Rob Epstein
Letterboxd

Why Should I Watch It?

Maybe you’ve seen the fictionalised account of his life (Milk, 2008), but documentaries always hit different. There are testimonies of people who knew him, news clips, footage taken after his murder. As much as it’s a history lesson, it’s also disturbing when you realised how little have actually changed in the last thirty or so years. Then again, you do have to know history in order not to repeat it (or let it be repeated).

inbtwn

Translating Beauty (2020)

dir. Elizabeth Trojian & Anita Ayres
Letterboxd

Why Should I Watch It?

Beauty standards in our society, but through the lenses of trans women. The ones who have to adhere to them so much more strictly. But it also talks about beauty as a concept in general, about how the way trans women are beautifully is slowly changing the way everyone in the world is perceiving beauty.

inbtwn

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anna

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