Looking back at the past year, it seems as though there has been quite a lot of media content to come out lately that features significant LGBTQ+ representation. That’s why several members of the Flip Screen staff have decided to reflect on some of their favourites as Pride month draws to a close! From under-the-radar comedies to emotionally stirring period dramas, and everything in between, here’s what some of our team had to say about the recent shows and films with LGBTQ+ themes and characters that resonated with them. (And who knows— after reading about the ones we’ve highlighted here, you might just be inspired to check them out and discover a new favourite yourself!)
Conversations with Friends (2022)
One of the many stereotypes of bisexuality that has been reinforced in media is that it’s simply a phase, a temporary in-between until a character gains clarity. This erasure of bisexuality isn’t solely tiring, but harmful. Thankfully, Conversations with Friends looks beyond these portrayals, while simultaneously exploring what lies beyond the traditional notions and constructs of relationships.
Conversations with Friends follows introverted Frances (Alison Oliver) and her charismatic former girlfriend/current best friend Bobbi (Sasha Lane) as they become involved with the married thirty-somethings Nick (Joe Alwyn) and Melissa (Jemima Kirke). Less of a love triangle and more of a constantly changing shape, their relationships with each other prove to be more challenging than expected as emotions evolve. The struggles faced in Conversations with Friends aren’t tied to anyone’s sexuality, but rather elements that actually matter, like a lack of communication or honesty. At least half of the quartet is queer, and the series showcases an unpretentious yet compelling portrayal of the complexity found within people who are free with their desires. Furthermore, the series successfully manages to convey Frances’s relationships with Bobbi and Nick as equally valid and not performances of either “straight” or “gay.” – Rebecca Rosén
Crush (2022, dir. Sammi Cohen)
Sapphic romantic comedies may be few and far between, especially when it comes to those that are actually worth seeking out, but 2022 has already given audiences a swoon-worthy story of young love with Crush. The film made its debut on Hulu earlier this year and focuses on the high school love triangle between artist Paige (Rowan Blanchard), track star AJ (Auli’i Cravalho), and AJ’s sister Gabriella (Isabella Feirreira). While Paige first holds onto her longtime crush, infatuated with the idea of her, she’s surprised to later find herself questioning who she’s really fallen for. It’s a fun film heavily reminiscent of the kind of teen rom-coms popular during sleepovers in the early 2000s— except for the fact it’s super queer!
Genuinely sweet and funny, Crush feels like a breath of fresh air within the canon of sapphic media. The film may seem a little cliché at times due to its familiar tropes and predictable story; however, it’s also very affirming of its characters’ queerness. Even its many humorous references to queer pop culture reflect certain stereotypes within our community, but in a way that feels more like a loving wink of acknowledgement as opposed to a laugh at our expense. While it’s a lighthearted watch, Crush still feels like a necessary addition that fills a gap within queer cinema, particularly for young sapphics who may be attempting to navigate their own complicated feelings. – Hayley Paskevich
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022, dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
When talking about recent contributions to the canon of LGBTQ+ media, it would be remiss to leave Everything Everywhere All at Once out of the conversation. The film — which has now become A24’s most successful to date — centers on Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a woman with countless failed ambitions who plays many overlapping roles within her life. Through navigating her complex dynamic with her queer daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), Evelyn finds herself forced to open her mind to worlds of possibilities she never could have imagined. It’s refreshing to see that Joy makes no apologies for who she is and who she loves. Her relationship with her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) adds a sweet sapphic element to the story; the two complement each other well, and, despite Evelyn’s obvious struggle to fully accept Joy, their love is only depicted in a positive light.
While there’s no doubt that the representation Joy and Becky offer audiences is meaningful, it’s not the only aspect of the film that makes it significant in relation to its queerness. Simply put, Everything Everywhere All at Once fits the very definition of “queer” as the term relates to media, constantly subverting expectations and refusing to neatly fit into any singular category in both its content and form. It’s dramatic and comedic, grounded and fantastical, heartbreaking and joyous. The all-encompassing nature of the film’s title couldn’t be more fitting, for it not only encapsulates the multitudes of complex experiences and emotions present within, but also those that are so deeply rooted in queer identity. – Hayley Paskevich
Fear Street trilogy (2021, dir. Leigh Janiak)
When Netflix released the Fear Street saga last summer as a multi-week event, viewers were expecting it to deliver thrills, chills, and frights— all of which were undoubtedly present throughout its three parts. However, a key element of these films that was far less expected but ended up being beautifully executed is the sapphic representation they offer through their main protagonists. Fear Street 1994 introduces viewers to Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), high school ex-girlfriends from rival towns. Along with Deena’s brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and their friends Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald), they find themselves up against an ancient town curse. But while old feelings resurface as they’re thrown back together, the two first have to make it through the night if they have any hope of rekindling their romance.
There’s a natural correlation to be made between queerness and horror, as both reflect the idea of fearing that which is seen as ‘other’. That’s precisely why the horror genre offers the perfect vehicle for telling queer stories, and Fear Street really leans into exploring this potential through an explicitly sapphic lens. With an interlinked narrative that spans decades (see Fear Street Part 2: 1978, which stars Stranger Things’s Sadie Sink), centuries (see Fear Street Part 3: 1666, my personal favourite of the three), and centers queer love throughout, the Fear Street franchise truly feels like a step in the right direction. Thanks to their diverse cast and compelling plotlines, these movies have established themselves as worthy inductees into the canon of horror, and point to a future where girls who like girls can also be final girls. – Hayley Paskevich
Gentleman Jack (2019-2022)
Based on the diaries of the 19th century lesbian industrialist Anne Lister, Sally Wainwright’s Gentleman Jack is a true lesbian televisual marvel. The first season of Gentleman Jack begins in 1832, with Lister (Suranne Jones) charmingly courting her neighbour, Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle). This season eventually concluded with their secret, forbidden marriage, while the second, which aired this year, paints a searing portrait of a lesbian marriage that is violently sworn to eternal secrecy.
Gentleman Jack is groundbreaking for its unabashed and joyous portrayal of butch-femme lesbian relationships. While it appears that most lesbian characters on television are femme, rarely are these femme lesbians paired with a butch lesbian, and they are often written with a heterosexual audience in mind. In Gentleman Jack, however, Walker’s tenacious devotion to Lister tells lesbians that unconditional acceptance for our identities can only be sought through our love for each other.
Despite the constant homophobia that both Lister and Walker face, Gentleman Jack never once posits that straight acceptance is the answer. Set in an era when there was no blueprint for lesbian existence, Lister and Walker’s marriage is a miraculous gift, and Gentleman Jack celebrates their bravery and resilience. Rarely are lesbians portrayed in media with an extraordinary amount of compassion, but Gentleman Jack has it in spades, and it is hence blazingly radical and worthy of praise. – Shar Tan
Hacks is the story of comedian Deborah (Jean Smart), who — somewhat reluctantly — teams up with young writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) in an attempt to save both of their careers. Besides its entertainment value, Hacks allows its LGBTQ+ characters the type of nuanced experiences that unfortunately haven’t always been offered. When Deborah once asks Ava if she’s a lesbian, she openly dives into the full range of her sexuality without hesitation. The monologue, where she mentions that she’s bisexual, is messy in its delivery, but deeply honest. Besides Ava, there’s another queer lead in Deborah’s closest advisor Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins).
These characters are allowed to be themselves — flaws and all — and, while their sexualities are present, it’s not what defines them. Hacks moves away from the stereotypes that have long plagued comedy series and instead presents the characters, and not their identities, as funny. While it’s important to showcase characters discovering their identities, it’s equally essential to see stories in which characters are already confident in their queerness. When characters in Hacks speak so casually about themselves — not because of unimportance but self-assurance — it sets a template for people in real life to dare to do the same. – Rebecca Rosén
When audiences watch something with LGBTQ+ representation that resonates with them, even though it’s made with a younger demographic in mind, it’s understandable that one might wish that it would’ve existed when they were younger. Heartstopper is exactly that kind of series, with its wholesome yet unstrained portrayal of queer inclusivity. The series tells the story of Charlie (Joe Locke), who falls in love with popular rugby player Nick (Kit Connor). While exploring their budding romance, it also explores the lives of their friends, among them Elle (Yasmin Finney), who recently transferred schools after coming out as transgender.
Innocent and sweet, yet never naive, Heartstopper succeeds in feeling radical without ever leaning on shock value. For instance, the fact that the protagonist is unapologetically gay while his love interest is the one figuring out unexpected feelings is a refreshing twist. With each lead being equally captivating, it’s impossible to not get swept up in their stories of friendship and love. While it’s undeniably important for children to have access to joyful and positive queer representation, Heartstopper is just as pleasant for those of us who grew up without it. – Rebecca Rosén
Never Have I Ever (2020-)
Fabiola Torres is a nerdy Afro-Latinx lesbian in Mindy Kaling’s ongoing Netflix series, Never Have I Ever. Played by Lee Rodriguez (who identifies as queer in real life), Fabiola’s story revolves not only around her coming out, but also the struggle of feeling like you still don’t belong even after coming out. In a refreshing representation of the diversity of the LGBTQ community, we see Fabiola come out to overwhelming support from friends and family and start a relationship with Eve Hjelm (Christina Kartchner).
Her life seems perfect, but robotics-loving Fabiola struggles to fit in with her girlfriend and new Cool Queer friends. She tries to emulate what she thinks a lesbian should be by spending less time on robotics in favour of brushing up on gay pop culture, but fails miserably and experiences significant discomfort in her new personality.
Fabiola’s story serves as a crucial reminder that everyone’s journey is different and you don’t need to know The L-Word trivia or abandon who you are to be queer. Fabiola learns by the end of season two that there is no right or wrong way to be gay and the only way to truly be happy is to be yourself, which is an extremely important message for Never Have I Ever’s young LGBTQ viewers to hear. – Rosie Mayne
Single Drunk Female (2022, Simone Finch)
Simone Finch’s Single Drunk Female, which aired on Freeform, is one of this year’s quietly brilliant queer comedies. Loosely based on Finch’s own struggles with alcoholism, the show follows Sam (Sofia Black-D’ Elia), a bisexual woman in her late-20s, as she begins the road to sobriety after realizing that she’s an alcoholic. Contrary to media texts which glamorize the self-destructive spiral of an addict, Single Drunk Female narrates the difficulty that comes with staying sober in a world brimming with pain and injustice.
In Single Drunk Female, Sam’s sobriety is made possible only through the unconditional love of her sober queer friends. It is a de facto state of affairs that queers gravitate towards each other’s pain, and understand it better than anyone else. Sam is not alone in her addiction, and Single Drunk Female highlights that by also focusing on the queer addicts who Sam encounter at AA meetings, like her lesbian sponsor, Olivia (Rebecca Henderson), and her trans friend, Mindy (Jojo Brown), who offers Sam a job at the grocery store to pay off her debts. While the show is made up of 20-minute episodes, all of these queer characters are fully realized people with their own struggles, hopes, and dreams — their presence never feels sorely tokenistic.
For instance, we get a rich insight into Olivia’s struggle to start a family as well as fleshed-out scenes of her marriage. Olivia may have been sober for ten years, but she soon realizes that she, too, is substituting one addiction for another; her sponsorship of Sam and other queer addicts is merely another way of emotionally distancing herself from the heartbreak of gruelling IVF sessions. Mindy also speaks candidly about how transphobia made her prone to substance abuse, and it is through these characters that Single Drunk Female sensitively tackles the relationship between queerness and substance abuse. As such, Single Drunk Female proves itself as a wonderful addition to existing narratives of queer sobriety. – Shar Tan
Somebody Somewhere (2022-)
Living in small towns can be difficult, especially when you don’t fit into what is considered the norm. Therefore, people often end up fleeing these suffocating towns in favour of bigger cities. However, in Somebody Somewhere, viewers are introduced to queer people who have not only remained in the small towns but built fulfilling lives there.
Somebody Somewhere follows Sam (Bridget Everett), a middle-aged woman who returned to her conservative hometown to look after her terminally ill sister. Moving cluelessly through life after her sister’s death, everything changes after meeting Joel (Jeff Hiller), a former classmate who invites her to a performance gathering called Choir Practice. In Somebody Somewhere, LGBTQ+ characters are allowed to exist without facing constant deliberate struggles. For instance, the sole reference to the gender identity of Fred (Murray Hill), the host of Choir Practice, subtly takes place during an interaction between him and a waiter who calls him “sir” before unintentionally misgendering him. “No, you got it right the first time,” Fred reassuringly says before moving on.
Furthermore, it isn’t too often openly gay characters of faith are portrayed on screen. As someone who easily could’ve been reduced to a sidekick, Joel is a fully fleshed-out character that doesn’t solely exist to serve Sam. Somebody Somewhere is undeniably heartfelt, as it embraces the importance of community to the backdrop of Choir Practice, a safe and inclusive environment for the chosen family. – Rebecca Rosén
Sort Of (2021-)
Bilal Baig — who identifies as queer and transfeminine — made history with the release of Sort Of, becoming the first queer South Asian Muslim actor to star in a Canadian prime-time television series. Furthermore, their character Sabi was the first non-binary lead character ever on Canadian television. However, while it’s easy to focus on these milestones, Sort Of is worthy of praise on its own due to its riveting characters and story.
Created by Baig and Fab Filippo, Sort Of follows Sabi who is struggling with their place in life. Working as a nanny by day and a bartender by night, everything in their life is put on pause when Bessy (Grace Lynn Kung), the mother of the children they care for, is involved in a life-threatening accident. An easily digested slice of life with substance, Sort Of examines the struggle of trying to reach a point of freedom to embrace oneself fully, particularly as Sabi is in a constant inner conflict, caught between longing to be free and feeling a sense of responsibility towards others.
Right from the start, it’s impossible to not care for Sabi and Baig manages to convey so much through their subtle yet funny and tender performance. Change is a natural part of life and choosing to incorporate it as a recurring theme naturally creates a common ground for all viewers to connect to — regardless of what one’s transition is about. Besides a compassionate depiction of multifaceted people, Sort Of offers a positive portrayal of relationships between children and adult LGBTQ+ characters — which is welcoming in a world that, sadly, aggressively tries to separate the two. – Rebecca Rosén
The Sex Lives of College Girls (2021-)
Mindy Kaling’s The Sex Lives of College Girls (SLOCG) follows the diverse lives of four freshmen at prestigious fictional university, Essex College. Set in the present day — where 1 in 6 Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ+ – it’s no wonder that the show includes multiple queer characters. Notably, all of these characters are played by queer actors. Reneé Rapp (Leighton) and Midori Frances (Alicia), who play love interests, both identify as queer women. Other queer characters on the show – Travis, Tova and Coach Woods – are also played by LGBTQ+ actors.
Leighton Murray is a wealthy, judgemental legacy student who struggles with her coming out journey. Through her story, showrunner Justin Noble wanted to highlight the rarely portrayed ‘internal struggle of queerness’ that many young people deal with. Leighton knows she’s gay, but isn’t ready to accept that her image and reputation may change as a result of coming out to her peers. The show skilfully portrays her struggle with internalised homophobia and how it impacts her relationships with her friends/roommates, powerful conservative family and girlfriend, Alicia.
Leighton eventually does come out to Kimberley in a tender and comforting scene depicting unconditional love and support. Coming out is a lifelong process but is often shown in the media as a huge one time event. Leighton’s coming out to Kimberly is simple yet realistic and has been praised as highly relatable because her fear of change is an experience many viewers are able to understand. Rapp’s sensitive portrayal of a complex character like Leighton has charmed audiences, but it’s still rare for a queer character to be played and written by an LGBTQ+ person, which is why Leighton Murray – and the other queer characters in SLOCG – are so important. – Rosie Mayne
The Umbrella Academy (2020-)
Based on the comic series by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, The Umbrella Academy follows the lives of superhero orphans who are trained to save the world by their billionaire adoptive father. The highly anticipated third season introduces Viktor Hargreeves, played by Elliot Page, who transitioned between the filming of the second and third season.
The show worked closely with Page and transgender writer Thomas Page McBee to ensure Viktor’s transition felt as authentic as possible. The decision to show Viktor’s transition on screen was welcomed by Page, who described the scenes as “really special.”
Viktor’s brothers accept their sibling’s identity without question in a touching yet understated display of affection. Although simple, these interactions between the Hargreeves siblings are perhaps the most moving moments in the entire series. Viktor’s life is far from perfect, but these rare moments of love, acceptance and trans joy are a welcome reprieve from the narratives of trauma and hardship that audiences have come to expect from mainstream media. – Rosie Mayne