As Pride Month kicked off this year with #BlackLivesMatter protests across the country, we are reminded of the Stonewall riots in 1969 that spearheaded the establishment of many LGBTQ+ rights we enjoy today. Since both the BLM and the gay rights movement are synonymous with protesting police brutality, it is important that we don’t forget our roots. That being said, we can appreciate and honor the past whilst also looking for newer TV shows and films that feature queer representation. Even though these five recommendations are some of my favorites, it’s not an exhaustive list! What are some that you may not have heard of yet?
- The Handmaiden (2016), dir. Park Chan-wook
Come for the lesbian love story, stay for the intriguing plot, stunning cinematography, and a soundtrack that you’ll keep forever in your Spotify library. The pickpocket Sookhee is hired by a con man named Count Fujiwara to spy on and eventually betray his fiancee, the rich Lady Hideko. However, this film is told in three parts, featuring multiple POVs, and the twists and turns with unreliable narrators will leave you breathless with anticipation. Adapted from Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, this Korean spin on the tale received multiple awards and was met with critical acclaim. Some found the graphic lesbian sex gratuitous and unnecessary, others lauded it as a subversion of the male gaze in queer relationships between women. Either way, this film did not earn its R rating for nothing, so be warned that it is not for the faint of heart.
- Sex Education (2019), second season (2020)
Next up on this list is Sex Education, a British comedy-drama that debuted on Netflix in 2019. Otis is your typical repressed nerdy protagonist in a suspiciously Americanized high school. At first, he is embarrassed by his mum’s sex therapy profession, but eventually turns his knowledge to good use by running an underground sex clinic at the encouragement of fellow student Maeve Wiley. Gillian Anderson plays Otis’s mother, Jean Millburn, and that should be enough to convince you to watch it. In all seriousness, this series features a diverse cast with various orientations, even the lesser-known ones such as asexuality, although it is really in the second season that the characters of color start to shine. I knew this was a good series as soon as they introduced an interracial same-sex adult couple without so much a blink of an eye. Sexual humor is interspersed with tense and emotional character development to make for one hell of an experience.
- Queer Eye (2018)
This rebooted version of the popular original is on Netflix and has gained a cult following ― for good reason. Five gay guys, travelling around the country and bettering the lives of their episodic clients, work their magic using a combination of fashion advice, home renovation, therapy talk, cooking skills, and haircuts. Although it drew criticism for the handling of some issues (the reason why I cringed watching the Queer Eye in Japan spinoff), the Fab Five nevertheless carries the show with their distinct personalities. Sexual orientation is not the focus in this series, centering instead on the common human experiences that connect us, but the level of inclusion and acceptance across the board is heartwarming to see.
- Feel Good (2020)
Is there nothing that Mae Martin ― standup comedian, director, and lead actor ― can’t do? Watching the 6-episode series Feel Good makes me think not. This semi-autobiographical story follows Mae, a comedian and recovering drug addict, in her meeting with Emily, a “formerly straight” girl who is reluctant to come out to her friends. This heartbreaking and tender narrative follows the ups and downs of their relationship, weaving between questions of familial support, self-esteem, gender identity, and more. It was a rollercoaster of pure unadulterated thrill, even though it might make you shed tears on more than one occasion. The chemistry between the two main leads is off the charts. No wonder I finished this series in one sitting!
- Moonlight (2016)
Yes, you saw this one coming. What can I say about it that won’t convince you to watch it more than the three Grammy nominations to its name? It’s a classic for a reason. Moonlight follows the tripartite narrative of its protagonist, Chiron, as he grapples with his orientation in the context of his rough childhood environment in Miami, Florida. Chiron doesn’t speak much in the film, but the relationships with his mother Paula, his father figure Juan, and his friend and lover Kevin play out realistically with a combination of masterful cinematography, body language, and brilliant writing. There are frank discussions about homophobia, drugs, black identity, and self love, wrapped up in a coming-of-age journey that will stay with you long past its runtime.