Since 1994, February has been appointed the title of LGBTQ+ History Month. So during February forget about Valentines day (except not completely because your other half will be pissed) and instead strive to deepen and expand your knowledge on the history of civil rights movements advocated by LGBTQ+ people. However important this monthly celebration of LGBTQ+ history is, we should really be educating ourselves throughout the whole year, not just the one month. This is why I have helpfully done all the hard work for you, and gathered a list of international films that centre around LGBTQ+ rights movements around the globe. You’re welcome.
I advise you to keep your best linen handkerchief or used Kleenex next to you at all times, because they will make you weep.
1. Pride (2014, United Kingdom)
‘Pride’ is set in the summer of 1984, during the lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers. During the pride parade in London, gay and lesbian activists decide to help the miners by raising money to help families affected by the strike. Yes, we’re a very generous bunch, mostly because of that innate sense that almost all LGBTQ+ people have of what it means to be ostracised in some way. At first, the two communities are hesitant about being associated with one another, but in the end they created the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign. So I’ve started you off there with a light one – a heartwarming tale injected with comedy about the all important message: help those that look down on you in spite of your difference and maybe everyone will come to an understand in the end. Naw.
2. BPM – 120 Battements Par Minute (2017, France)
Other than being the moment in which I realised my infinite love for Adèle Haenel, BPM is a French film (subtitles alert) set during the AIDS epidemic of the early 1990s in Paris and revolves around the activism of the association ‘Act Up Paris’. Protagonist Nathan joins Act Up Paris to fight the AIDS crisis, where he falls in love with HIV positive Sean. The movie intertwines this inspiring and sensual love story between these two gorgeous lads with the radical protests of Act Up against the French government and its methods of dealing with the epidemic. Winning 6 César Awards, including best film and both boys taking away a trophy for their performances, this is definitely a must see.
3. Milk (2008, USA)
This film is a biographical depicture of gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn (not the capital of Cambodia). After moving with his partner (James Franco) to San Francisco’s neighbourhood ‘Eureka Valley’ and seeing its lack of acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ community, Milk begins his journey of activism and entrance into politics. He becomes the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California in 1976, fighting for the rights of gays and lesbians. We love an age gap couple sub-story mixed with inspirational political speeches and a gut-wrenching ending.
4. Aligarh (2015, India)
This film is going to enrage your injustice meter. It narrates the true story of Ramchandra Siras, a professor at Aligarh University. The professor’s privacy is violently invaded when the crew of a local TV station forcibly enter his house and find him having sex with a man. Siras is forced to leave his housing at the university and is suspended from his job. A reporter finds interest in Siras’ story, and his case is taken to court. I think LGBTQ+ people often wonder why the media is “so obsessed with the ‘lover’… at least try to understand the ‘love’.”
5. Mala Mala (2014, Puerto Rico)
This documentary shows stories of the trans community in Puerto Rico. What is important about this film is the underrepresented history of rights in Puerto Rico: it depicts the victory of the community through the approval of ‘Law 238-2014’, which prevents discrimination in employment and workplace based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
6. The Normal Heart (2014, USA)
‘The Normal Heart’ is a semi-fictionalised story of the life of Larry Kramer, adapted from the play of the same name. The film shows the rise of the HIV crisis in New York from the point of view of Ned (Mark Ruffalo), founder of an HIV community organisation, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. (if the beautiful Dr. Julia Roberts told you to speak up about the AIDS crisis, you’d do it too). The cause hits incredibly close to home for Ned because his lover Felix (Matt Bomer) comes down with symptoms of HIV.
7. Welcome To Chechnya (2020, USA)
No queer person should feel welcome in Chechnya. The documentary follows LGBTQ+ activists rescuing survivors of torture in the Republic, since the anti-gay purges conducted in the late 2010s Chechnya, which included detention camps and horrifying torture that is disturbingly reminiscent of mid 20th century Stalinism, which you wouldn’t hope to find happening 10 years ago. The documentary is shot through hidden camera as the refugees escape from Russia through a network of safe housing, helped by activists.
8. Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen (2020, USA)
This documentary, through interviews to trans actors, directors and activists, like OITNB’s Laverne Cox, Matrix director Lilly Wachowski, Pose’s Mj Rodriguez and countless other heroes, narrates the story of trans representation in Hollywood film since the beginning of cinema and its impact on the perception of transgender people in American culture. One of the most up to date retrospective of the community that we have.
9. The Dance Of The 41 (2020, Mexico)
‘The Dance of the 41’ recalls the historical event happened in 1901 in Mexico City, when police carried out an illegal raid in a private home and found that some of the men inside were wearing ‘feminine’ clothing. The event became notorious because the participants were members of the Mexican upper class, amongst them the son-in-law of the next President of Mexico. Scandal! The event was incredibly important for LGBTQ+ history, with this being the first time that homosexuality and queerness was talked about in Mexican media.
10. Poshida: Hidden LGBT+ Pakistan (2015, Pakistan/United Kingdom)
‘Poshida’ is a short film documentary on the severely silenced queer community in Pakistan. By exploring the lives of these LGBTQ+ people, the documentary addresses the almost unknown history of their culture. Their representation (or rather lack thereof) in the media, especially regarding trans women, and the role that Pakistan’s colonisers (UK and US) play in the laws made against the LGBTQ+ community in Pakistan.
11. Before Stonewall (1984, US)
Everyone’s heard of Stonewall. But not everyone knows what happened before. ‘Before Stonewall’ is a documentary film that explores and encompasses American LGBTQ+ history before 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots, which were cataclysmic of the movement for gay, lesbian and transgender rights. After the riots, the Gay Liberation front was created, and spread from the US to the UK, building a community of people determined to fight for their rights.
You’ve got 11 months, 11 movies to go. I’ll quiz you next February.