It’s common to scroll through the LGBT section of popular streaming sites and feel defeated about what you see. If it’s not films you’ve already seen, it’s often the same five generic-looking gay and lesbian films with sad, skinny white people standing in front of a sunset on their posters. Maybe you can just watch Carol for the twentieth time on Netflix, but wouldn’t it also be great to change it up a bit? To see a gay protagonist in a horror film or an animated movie with a queer child character at its center? For that post Pride Month itch for on-screen representation, here is a list of five of some lesser known LGBT films in a variety of genres – all conveniently under 95 minutes!
5. Sick Girl (2006), dir. Lucky McKee
Starting out this list with a film that, while it may not be very impressive on a technical level, is a ton of fun. Sick Girl is Lucky McKee’s entry in the Masters of Horrors series and follows a shy entomologist (Angela Bettis) whose obsession with insects extends into a massive collection of them in her tiny apartment. This makes it hard for her to bring dates home, until she meets Misty Falls (Erin Brown): a girl whose father was a professor in entomology. The two naturally hit it off, and their brief love story is wonderfully directed by McKee.
There are a few unwarranted comments from the protagonist’s straight male best friend in the film’s beginning but, as a whole, the central LGBT story is handled really well. The women involved are strange, not always in an endearing way, and because of that the film never feels like it was “made for men”, as lesbian films made by male directors often do. The lead character also genuinely feels like a fully fleshed out human being. She’s a little weirder than the average person, but her personality is strong and consistent throughout the film’s runtime, and she’s never reduced to just being her sexuality or her relationship.
As a general warning, this film has a lot of cartoonish gore and body horror which can be cheesy at times, but if that’s your kind of thing it can be a real treat! Despite its genre, the film even has a (somewhat surprising) happy ending!
Runtime: 56 minutes
Where to Watch: Free to watch (with ads) on Tubi
If You Like This, Check Out: May (2001), also directed by McKee. Available on Tubi.
4. Forbidden Love: the Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (1992), dir. Lynne Fernie, Aerlyn Weissman
Although it’s obviously great to see fictional representations of LGBT people on-screen, it’s also nice to see films that showcase stories from real people. This is especially true for films showcasing older LGBT people, as it is documented proof that we have always existed and it’s possible to have long and fulfilling lives with the people we love. The 1992 film Forbidden Love is just this, featuring a variety of women who love women talking about what it was like for them to grow up and come to terms with their attraction in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. It’s an overall delightful documentary, framed by a fictionalized dramatization of a pulp novel and perfectly mixing real discussions of the very serious threat of homophobia with anecdotal stories of the featured women having flings or falling in love.
In its focus on individual women and their stories, Forbidden Love also takes the time to discuss the racial disparity in the community, interviewing a Native American woman and a black woman who were a part of the lesbian “scene” at the time and comparing their experiences to the white women who so often become the focus of these stories. This representation, along with a rather frank discussion about the butch/femme dynamic and what it has meant to lesbians in particular over the years, makes it one of the best documentaries featuring women who love women.
Runtime: 85 minutes
Where to Watch: The National Film Board of Canada has this film available for purchase on DVD or streaming in full for free on their website
3. Torrey Pines (2016), dir. Clyde Petersen
Described by its writer/director as a “queer punk coming-of-age tale,” Torrey Pines follows a twelve-year-old child and his schizophrenic mother on a road-trip from San Diego to upstate New York. It’s a true story, based on the life of the film’s trans director Clyde Petersen, but is told in fantastical stop motion and, as a result, is all-the-more relatable despite its seemingly unrelatable premise. Something about that hand-colored paper, cut and pasted into different animated forms, feels so childlike and nostalgic in such an authentic way. It’s a feeling that no live action or CGI animated film could accurately replicate, and it makes this film an incredibly unique and well-crafted piece of art.
The film itself never directly addresses the fact that the main character is queer, but the subtext is definitely there through the amazingly rendered stop motion “thoughts” he has regarding pop culture and the world around him.
Genre: Animated Drama/Adventure
Runtime: 60 minutes
2. The Watermelon Woman (1996), dir. Cheryl Dunye
The Watermelon Woman is definitely one of the better-known films on this list, particularly in the LGBT community, but is worth a mention nonetheless. Cheryl Dunye’s debut feature-length film follows a young black lesbian (played by Dunye) who is desperately trying to find out more and eventually make a film about a black actress from the 1930’s often credited only as “The Watermelon Woman”. It’s a wonderfully written narrative about film representation and how race and sexuality play a role in how people are perceived both in Hollywood and in everyday life.
Runtime: 90 minutes
If You Like This, Check Out: Cheryl Dunye’s early short films, streaming on Kanopy
1. We the Animals (2018), dir. Jeremiah Zagar
We the Animals is a magnificent coming of age story about a mixed-race boy named Jonah (Evan Rosado) and his two brothers growing up in upstate New York, with excellent writing and spectacular visuals. Although the trio of brothers is initially shown to be a tight-knit, rambunctious group, they slowly begin to grow apart as the protagonist comes to realize his love of art and his feelings for other boys. This transition is handled remarkably well by the filmmakers and is complemented by a number of animated sequences based on Jonah’s crayon and marker drawings that perfectly encapsulate his emotions in a visual form.
Runtime: 94 minutes
Where to Watch: Currently available on Netflix in the US and Canada.