In recent years, there has been quite a revolution within the realm of LGBTQ cinema. Films about gay or transgender characters have begun to acquire the “it factor” that makes a film Oscar-worthy, rather than just a fan favorite. Perhaps it is that queer characters are finally being recognized as multifaceted, rather than being entirely consumed by their sexual or gender orientation. It is also becoming more common to see movies with queer characters of different races, classes, and cultures; this variety makes for more interesting and unique films, and helps escape the clichés that queer characters so often fall into when under the wrong writer’s hands.
In 2015, director Sean Baker gave us Tangerine, with two strong lead performances by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor. The film is about two transgender sex workers in downtown Los Angeles, one of whom has recently been released from jail and plans to seek revenge on her cheating boyfriend. It was released at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where Baker revealed that all of the footage was shot on an iPhone 5s camera and edited with an $8 app. While the film was not Oscar-nominated (though it very well should have been), it did win multiple awards and was considered to be the 11th best LGBT film of all time by the BFI. Mya Taylor also won a 2016 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female for the film.
Later that same year, Carol, the film adaption of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, was remarked as one of the few films about lesbians that did not end in tragedy. In Carol, a young girl working at a department store in the 1950’s falls for an older woman who is on the brink of divorce from her husband. Director Todd Haynes, who is gay himself, aimed to make the film as focused on female pleasure as possible, with a non-objectifying sex scene between the two women and the entire removal of a scene in which main character Therese engages in a sexual act with a man. The film was heavily Oscar nominated, including Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara, and Best Writing Adapted Screenplay.
In 2016, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight became the most acclaimed film of the year. The film tells the story of a “young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love, while grappling with his own sexuality.” Because the film came from a relatively unknown director and focused on underprivileged black characters, it was expected to not be favored by the Academy. However, it managed to round up 8 nominations for the 2017 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. It also currently has a whopping 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, and another 99 on MetaCritic.
At the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, critics fell in love with the film adaption of Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name. The film takes place in the 1980’s and explores the budding romance between 17-year-old Italian boy Elio and the 24-year-old American scholar living in his family’s villa for the summer. Directed by the acclaimed Luca Guadagnino, the film has been described as “beautiful visually, emotionally, and sexually.” It is considered a standout from other gay romances for being able to thoroughly articulate the human emotion and sexual confusion experienced in the adolescent years. There is no official theater release date just yet, but fans are awaiting it excitedly.
So what makes these films remarkable? Some argue that they “transcend sexuality” and speak to everyone no matter their orientation. But the magic in these films instead comes from the way that they embrace different kinds of sexuality in an unapologetic way, and express how it affects people’s lives without entirely overwhelming them. Hopefully these films mark the beginning of a long era–an era of breaking the mold and exploring the lives and happenings of queer characters in a cinematic fashion. And hopefully, this means many more awards to come.