Our LGBTQIA2S+ Movies Recommendations

LGBTQIA2S+ movies come in a variety of forms, from comedies and dramas to documentaries. For this edition of INSTI® Recommends, we want to showcase some culturally significant and accurately representative films that our team enjoyed.

1. Circus of Books (Documentary)

What It’s About: This documentary tells the story of a bookstore and gay pornography shop in West Hollywood and Silver Lake, Los Angeles, that has operated since the 1960s. Barry and Karen Mason took over the shop in the early 80s and built it into one of the country’s largest distributors of gay porn. Their friendly shop provided a safe haven for the queer community to meet and feel welcome, especially during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s. Though the store survived FBI raids and federal obscenity charges, it closed its doors in 2019 with the proliferation of online porn and dating sites. Of course, while the film does a good job of discussing the importance of representation and safe places for the queer community, it is worth mentioning that Circle of Books was about male images and those meant for the male gaze. And while the documentary and the store worked towards the idea of porn equalling sexual liberation, this is an idea that has been challenged and continues to be challenged by feminist thinking. While generally, feminists raise this issue in relation to heterosexual pornography, it is worth considering the same discussion in terms of exploitation in gay porn.

2. Moonlight (Drama)

What It’s About: Released in 2016, Moonlight is the coming-of-age story of Chiron, an African American boy living in a rough Miami neighbourhood. Bullied, Chiron struggles to feel he fits in due to his sexuality and befriends a drug dealer, Juan, who has a significant influence on the trajectory of Chiron’s life. Told in three parts and addressing poverty, race, and sexuality, Moonlight is a deep film focused on story and dialogue, showcasing the impact that society’s expectations and challenges of certain groups and people have on individuals, especially those who feel that their communities have rejected them for who they truly are. While Moonlight conveys the pain, struggle, and challenges of the continuing social stigma and discrimination around the LGBTQ community, the movie also questions masculinity, societal traditions, and expectations projected onto the black community, especially the youth.

3. Brokeback Mountain (Drama)

What It’s About: It has been 17 years since the movie was released, and though there are criticisms of the film, it is important to include due to its reach and influence. Launched amongst a storm of controversy, the movie means different things to different people within the LGBTQBIA2S+ community. There are valid criticisms of the film, such as how a movie about cis white gay men gets coverage (especially with actors not from the community), but coverage of a black trans woman, such as Marsha P. Johnson (more below on Marsha), get very little, if any. Another criticism is also that it is a gay story told through a straight lens and that, like many films in the LGBTQIA2S+ space, the story is one of struggle that ends with tragedy, whereas more space should be made for films that showcase the queer community in a positive light or story. Despite this, at the time of its release, it was one of the first movies that openly showed queer representation in media that made it to a mainstream audience, even with the controversy that came with it. It won Oscars and made $178M at the box office, showing an appetite for diverse stories outside the heteronormative landscape.

4. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (Documentary)

What It’s About: This documentary tells the story of a Transgender Activist who participated in the Stonewall Uprising and fought for equal rights. The film focuses on the efforts to gain justice for Marsha, whose death, though ruled a suicide, many believe was a murder. As an openly out and transgender woman, Marsha lived a life of paradox; living in poverty, she worked in sex work with so few options available, but also hung out with the so-called Beautiful People, including the Andy Warhol crowd. The documentary focuses on three stories, Marsha’s (and the search for justice for her), her close friend Sylvia Rivera, an icon of trans activism, and Victoria Cruz, a queer trans woman and former activist who knew both Marsha and Sylvia. Victoria shares personal details of all three of their stories and takes an investigative role in trying to unearth the truth of Marsha’s life. With calls to police precincts, coroners, family and friends, and many others, Victoria attempts to uncover the truth.

5. A Secret Love (Documentary)

What It’s About: This documentary tells the story of two elderly women, Terry and Pat, who have kept their relationship a secret for almost seven decades before coming out to their families as they begin to feel the effects of old age and declining health. Having met in Canada in the 40s, the couple kept their love and relationship from their families, moving to Chicago to build a life together. While steps have been made since then (albeit with more to go), looking at same-sex relationships in the 40s and 50s can be hard to even fathom with a 2022 lens, especially for those not part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Not only were lesbian relationships frowned upon, but in most cases, it was illegal and even dangerous for the women. In the 40s and 50s, women could be thrown in prison and have their names published “to protect the public” in the papers; they could even have been thrown in jail for wearing fly-front pants as they were “impersonating men.” Shot between 2013 and 2018, one year before Terry passed away at age 93, the story doesn’t focus much on queer history or activism. Instead, it is a sensitive and emotional telling of Terry and Pat’s decades-long love and their navigation of the realities of aging together. The movie is heartwarming, even though, at times, it is frustrating to see the struggle they had to go through.