With the decade having come to a close and a new ‘roaring’ ’20s dawning, now is a great time to look back on some of the media that has shaped us over the past ten years. The 2010s brought a lot of personal change for me, but one of the biggest things I accomplished in the decade was coming out to my family and friends as bisexual. My ability to come out comfortably was thanks in large part to growing representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the media. Over the past ten years, many new films and TV series reflected the world around us more diversely, especially when it comes to the lives of queer and trans folks. There is still a long way to come for authentic representation in cinema, but below are some of the best works of queer cinema in the 2010s.
Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011)
From director Dee Rees, Pariah tells the story of Alike (Adepero Oduye), a 17 year-old Brooklyn lesbian who is coming to terms with her identity in the face of a disapproving mother and an unfortunate crush on a church friend. The film promotes self-love and self-acceptance through a sincere and poignant snapshot of a black butch lesbian who is in desperate need of family affirmation. Through the eyes of the strong-willed Alike, the audience is given a taste of the confusion, loneliness, and ultimate desperation for self-expression that so many young LGBTQ+ folks face.
Pride (Matthew Warchus, 2014)
Pride is a charming British dramedy based on the true story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign of the 1980s. The film follows Mark (Ben Schnetzer), the leader of a group of gay and lesbian activists who pool their resources to support a small mining town in Wales during the miners’ strike of 1984, despite contention between miners and LGBT folks. Pride incorporates the perfect mix of quick-witted British comedy and emotional sincerity as Mark and his crew begin to form a special bond with the people of the mining town. The endearing characters and their unlikely bonds with one another makes for a wholesome watch in a world of queer stories that are often tragic.
Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
Carol is perhaps one of the most well-known LGBTQ+ films of the last decade. Starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, among other familiar Hollywood faces, Carol even garnered an Oscar Best Picture nomination. This film, based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, places a queer twist on the classic forbidden love trope. In it, the newly-engaged Therese (Mara), falls in love with an older woman, Carol (Blanchett), who is going through a messy divorce. Carol tells the story of lesbian romance in an era wherein it is almost impossible to be publicly out. Though Therese and Carol’s love story takes place in the 1950s, the themes of longing and temptation found in the film, and the obstacles that the women face, transcend the time period, and have connected with modern lesbian audiences.
Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2015)
Sean Baker’s Tangerine tells the story of Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender sex worker who discovers that her boyfriend, who is also her pimp, has been cheating on her. This film is a significant addition to the trans film canon, as it stars real life trans women and sex workers. The main actors used in the film (Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) had no major acting experience, and were discovered by Baker at the Los Angeles LGBT centre. Interestingly, the film was also completely shot using three iPhone 5s. Both of these elements contribute to the hyperrealist effect of the film, giving the audience a snapshot into the lives of real trans sex workers, and the obstacles that they face on the streets. Tangerine uses a delicate balance of humour and emotional poignancy to give voice to a more underrepresented group of LGBTQ+ folks.
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
This Oscar Best Picture Award-winning drama may perhaps be my personal favourite film on this entire list. Based on In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, a play by Tarell Alvin, this heart-wrenching coming-of-age film follows Chiron (Alex Hibbert), a young queer black boy who is taken under the wing of drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae), who seek to protect him from schoolyard bullies and his abusive, drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris). The film has three parts, following Chiron in childhood, then into adolescence (Ashton Sanders), and finally as an adult (Trevante Rhodes). In Moonlight, Barry Jenkins tackles queer black masculinity with such softness and grace, both thematically and through beautifully-lit cinematography, and he presents Chiron, Juan, and Kevin (André Holland) as a symbol of resistance to the typical Hollywood portrayals of black men.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Angela Robinson, 2017)
This biographical drama is based on the true story of Professor Bill Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), and their interest in their young research assistant, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). In the film, Bill, Elizabeth, and Olive find themselves in a polyamorous relationship, and the two women end up becoming Bill’s inspiration for the creation of the fictional superhero, Wonder Woman. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women explores topics such as sexual fluidity, polyamory, and BDSM in a time period where these things were even more stigmatized than they are now. While there is controversy over whether or not the real Elizabeth and Olive were ever lovers, the film still serves as a somewhat fictionalized representation of a relationship that defies heteronormative structure.
A Fantastic Woman (Sebastián Lelio, 2017)
This Academy Award-winning Chilean film was well-received by critics upon its release in 2017. A Fantastic Woman tells the story of Marina, a transgender woman who must deal with the scrutiny of her lover’s family after his unexpected death. The film stars Daniela Vega, who in the aftermath of the film became the first transgender person to present an award at the Oscars. In a media landscape where very few stories of trans people are given the opportunity to be told, A Fantastic Woman is an important representation of the challenges that trans people all over the world face every day. Hopefully, the success of A Fantastic Woman will pave the way for more transgender representation in film this coming decade.
Boy Erased (Joel Edgerton, 2018)
Boy Erased, based on the 2016 memoir by Garrard Conley, tells the story of Garrard’s youth through the character of Jared Eammons (Lucas Hedges). When Jared is outed as gay to his southern, Baptist parents, he is pressured into attending a conversion therapy program. Nicole Kidman, and Russel Crowe deliver heart-wrenching performances as parents that are trying to reconcile their love for their son with their theological beliefs. Director Joel Edgerton also stars in the film as chief therapist Victor Sykes. Boy Erased is a harrowing look inside the very real practice of conversion therapy, which still takes place in some parts of the US. Though this film is an emotional watch, it plays an important role in shedding light on the danger of gay conversion therapy.
Rafiki (Wanuri Kahiu, 2018)
Rafiki, titled after the Swahili word for “friend,” tells the story of a romantic bond between two women living in Nairobi, Kenya, a country where homosexuality is illegal. Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) has a strenuous relationship with her father, who is running in a local election, and finds herself in a complicated situation when she falls for Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), the daughter of her father’s political rival. The film delves into the complexities of being part of the LGBTQ+ community in a nation where there are legal consequences for gay couples, and director Wanuri Kahiu and her team ran into many obstacles themselves while trying to make this film. The filmmakers had to seek funding outside of Kenyan resources due to the nature of the film. The film was also banned in Kenya due to these themes. Rafiki is a colourful and hopeful story about the power of lesbian love, and represents a community of LGBTQ+ folks who don’t often have the opportunity to see themselves on screen.