To commemorate that yesterday, May 17th, was the International Day Against Homophobia, here’s a spotlight on some influential films in queer cinema (within the last decade or so and in no particular order) that gave way to more visibility and awareness within media and popular culture .
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Who could forget the incredible commercial success that was Brokeback Mountain when this film hit the circuits? This was one of the most successful mainstream gay films up until that point. This adaptation of a short story by Annie Proulx, dubbed by pop culture as ‘that gay cowboy movie’, explored the romance of two tortured men in the American West of the 1960s through to the 1980s. Helmed by Ang Lee, this film launched the careers of stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal into entirely bigger hemispheres and captured the hearts of gay men everywhere while also creating larger exposure on the struggles of gay men and women.
This is where it began for Hilary Swank’s multiple Oscar runs. In this tragic picture of identity and courage based on a true story, we follow the life of Brandon Teena living as a young transgendered male (who was born a female) and the consequences of the revelations of his identity that lead to their demise. This small indie managed to catch an enormous amount of attention for lead actress Hilary Swank which led to her first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and wins for Best Actress.
2005 seemed to be a very queer friendly year in cinema as Transamerica came to the attention of critics everywhere alongside Brokeback Mountain. The film took us along on a journey of a transsexual woman who tries to bond with the long lost son (Kevin Zegers) she fathered, during a road trip of self-discovery (physically and metaphorically). This was another film that shed light on trans issues and made the public consciousness gay or straight, aware of issues that didn’t exist for them until this movie. It also didn’t hurt that lead actress Felicity Huffman’s performance blew critics away and allowed her to snag an Oscar nomination and have her win a Golden Globe. Finally, who can’t help but love Dolly Parton’s very catchy theme song “Travelin’ Thru”?
There is much love for queer director Gregg Araki around these parts, and this film really drives home why that is. Although not by any means a financial success, Mysterious Skin did make waves in the festival circuits and garnered heaps of critical acclaim. Skin is a haunting, affecting drama of two young men dealing with the aftermath of sexual childhood abuse by the hands of the same man and how each one deals with it later on in life. The spotlight shone bright on Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his abilities and depth as a serious dramatic actor. Known mostly for his comedic talents up until then, Mysterious Skin allowed him to transition from boy to man and flourish in his career taking on bigger, meatier roles.
The only other movie to date to supersede Brokeback Mountain’s success and attention for a gay-centric film is this biopic of San Francisco gay politician and activist Harvey Milk and his tireless efforts to gaining equality for the lesbian and gay community during a time when it seemed nearly impossible, which culminates in his untimely murder by a colleague. This was a film that was highly praised and lauded as it snatched up awards and nominations left and right internationally, regardless of the subject matter. (Considering it was 2008 you would think it should be no big deal right? Not the case.) Lead actor Sean Penn shined as California’s passionate first openly gay elected official, the portrayal of which won him an Oscar. Another notable honor is the film’s screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, is also an out gay man and was nominated for and subsequently won for Best Original Screenplay. It is incredibly refreshing to see such a positive role model like Harvey Milk brought to life and be able to inspire and encourage others to step outside their comfort zones and embrace others despite their differences. We also have to thank this film for bringing attention to a great individual in Black whether professionally or personally as a strong advocate for equality.
This indie romantic drama was a sleeper hit when it started screening at LGBT festivals and unfortunately did not get as much mainstream recognition as it deserved. Nonetheless many in these circles deemed it the best gay film of that year. Surpassing a micro budget and low production values that usually plague films of this size, it was able to successfully tell the story of a young man’s (actor Trevor Wright) choices between following his dreams, including a newly awakened love (Brad Rowe), and his obligations to his family. The plot and the acting shape this film and makes it more than a standard micro-indie coming out drama. If you are looking for a good example of a gem in queer cinema, this is definitively one of those.