Authentic LGBTQ(IA) representation in the mainstream media is notoriously limited, but it’s very slowly improving.
Finding quality films is still a challenge, however. On Amazon Prime, there’s a small collection of movies available to stream for free which feature this community’s stories. Here are five of the best-reviewed:
Moonlight (2016) – The most significant entry in the LGBTQIA canon in the last few years, Moonlight by Barry Jenkins adapts an unpublished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney. In three parts, the story follows the main character Chiron’s struggle with abuse, identity, family, and sexuality as a child, teenager, and then adult. Made for less than $5 million, the film went on to earn over $65 million.
After a viral mix-up with another film, Moonlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture, becoming the first ever film with an all-black cast to win. Mahershala Ali, who plays a father figure to Chiron, became the first Muslim to win an Oscar for his supporting role. It is rated R.
Eyes Wide Open (2010) – Described as a “quiet” film by critics, Eyes Wide Open tells the story of Aaron, a married man living in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem. He is to content to run a butcher shop, but his life is turned upside down when student Erzi walks in during a rainstorm. As the two men develop a friendship, their intimacy becomes physical, putting both in danger of losing everything.
The film explores a variety of themes, including guilt and obligation to one’s community and religion, that anyone who feels a clash within their identities can relate to. It is in Hebrew, so English subtitles are recommended. Eyes Wide Open won Best Movie at the 2009 International Ghent Film Festival and has an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is Unrated.
Before Stonewall (1984) – The oldest movie on this list, documentary Before Stonewall covers the violent riots between police and the LGBTQIA community at New York City’s Stonewall Inn. The standoff was the result of long-simmering tensions between the groups, and the documentary takes a hard look at how homosexuality was viewed before Stonewall, censorship, and more.
In 1985, the film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival. In recent years, it’s been criticized for its erasure of the trans community, so to fill in the gaps, consider watching the doc film Major! It’s also on Amazon Prime and explores the life of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a black transgender activist. Before Stonewall and Major! both appear to be Unrated.
Carla (2011) – Transgender woman Carla has been rejected by all of her family, except her grandfather. She also faces difficult surgeries to complete her transition. The film chronicles her internal struggle and conflict with her boyfriend, Sam, who isn’t sure if he wants to be with her after the surgeries. Carla stars Joslyn DeFreece as Carla and Laverne Cox as her close friend.
This film is significant because it is one of the few to cast actual transgender actresses. The director Eli Hershko felt very strongly about this, knowing it would cost the film wide distribution at the time. In 2015, Hershko and his wife – the executive producer – partnered with Indiegogo to re-release the movie, giving donors streaming links and donating funds to the National Center for Transgender Equality. If you have Amazon Prime, you can stream the movie for free. No rating appears on the page.
A Luv Tale (1999) – Years before honest and genuine LGBTQIA representation in movies was remotely acceptable, filmmaker Sidra Smith made the short film A Luv Tale, which centers on a lesbian photographer and straight editor who find themselves at a crossroads. They have both just left long-term relationships and crave respect and love.
A Luv Tale won the Audience Choice Award in 1991 at the Hollywood Black Film Festival, and Best Feature Film at the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame. Sidra Smith went on to become a major producer both in the United States and internationally. She recently tried to crowdfund for A Luv Tale web series, but was unsuccessful. For now, the film stands on its own.