Historically, there has been one particular storyline prevalent in queer cinema: The coming-out narrative. Stories revolving around a queer protagonist’s journey of coming out of the closet and/or navigating life within it. While such stories remain an extremely vital part of capturing the LGBTQ+ experience on screen, there are those that serve as a reminder that film and television should capture the “After” part of a queer person’s coming-out journey as well as the “Before/During” part.
In honor of Pride Month, I’ve curated a small sampling of ten varied stories that evolve past the coming-out narrative for those looking for recommended viewings both for this month and beyond.
The Old Guard (2020)
Besides being a philosophical spectacle about the nature of being immortal, The Old Guard offers the kind of LGBTQ+ visibility that a queer person like myself, who grew up on comic books and superheroes, has seriously craved. Not only because Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are given a moment to express their love with a passionate kiss, but also because their relationship is shown in an admirably nonchalant manner. They’re both two ageless badasses who act as sly comic relief and just happen to be a couple. I look forward to revisiting Joe and Nicky in the sequel currently in production and, honestly, would follow them through the next century.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021)
When it’s revealed that protagonist Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) is openly queer, it’s only in a small moment towards the very end. One where Katie’s mother quickly asks Katie if she and her crush are official. However, that’s still the idea. It’s meant to treat Katie’s queerness in a matter-of-fact manner without it being a big revelation or it being Katie’s main attribute. Katie’s an aspiring filmmaker who helps kick robotic butt to save the world and just happens to be queer with her family accepting her as she is. Thanks to that one scene, The Mitchells vs. The Machines serves as a necessary milestone for LGBTQ+ representation that animated cinema should follow going forward.
Schitt’s Creek (2017-2020)
Besides the world of film, we’re seeing the TV realm show strides in positive queer visibility thanks to programs like the Emmy-winning series Schitt’s Creek. Besides its depiction of pansexual character David Rose (Dan Levy), Schitt’s Creek is also notable for being a comedy series that shows a loving relationship between two men without their sexualities being used as a punchline. As a result, each episode where David and his beau Patrick (Noah Reid) passionately kiss feels celebratory.
Shot entirely on iPhone 5S smartphones, Sean Baker’s Tangerine is proof of how invigorating filmmaking can be as it follows the lives of two trans sex workers, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, over the course of one Christmas Eve. Additionally, the casting of actual trans women Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez makes movies like Dallas Buyers Club and The Danish Girl which perpetuate the practice of cis actors donning transface feel more antiquated. As Mya Taylor said in her historic Spirit Awards acceptance speech, there is transgender talent out there and deserve more stories like Tangerine where they can play rich depictions without their genders being a defining character trait.
God’s Own Country (2017)
Since Josh O’Connor is very hot right now thanks to his Emmy win for Season Four of The Crown and his slew of film roles on the horizon, why not revisit the performance that first put him on people’s radar? In God’s Own Country, O’Connor plays John Saxby, a hedonistic sheep farmer who engages in casual sex and drinking to get through his mundane life. That is until a migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Seceareanu) arrives to help out John’s family farm and eventually reshape his life. At that point, God’s Own Country becomes a sensory exercise in a couple using stares and body gestures to express their infatuation instead of words like “I love you.” The arresting cinematography by Oscar nominee Joshua James Richards is an added bonus.
Happy Together (1997)
Right before the measured yet dazzling In The Mood for Love, director Wong Kar-Wai made Happy Together, another romance that casts its own dizzying spell and which won him Best Director at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. The film’s prismatic cinematography and frenetic editing reflect the chaotic romance between Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung) who go through a constant cycle of quarreling and reconciliation. Discomforting as it occasionally may be, Happy Together still thrives on its technical merits and more importantly, the three-dimensional central performances.
The Birdcage (1996)
As freeing as stepping out of the closet is, The Birdcage shows that even life after coming out is as much of a journey as coming out. Both Armand Goldman (Robin Williams) and his partner Albert (Nathan Lane) live openly while owning a successful Miami drag club. But them having to lie for the conservative parents of their son’s fiancee illustrates the struggle of living openly in a narrow-minded world. Thanks to the screenplay by Elaine May adapted from the 1973 French play La Cage aux Folles, The Birdcage still finds a well-balanced blend of lingering melancholy and uproarious humor. A classic that earned praise from GLAAD for going “beyond the stereotypes to see the characters’ depth and humanity” during its initial release, this film is highly suggested viewing.
Hearts Beat Loud (2018)
The fittingly titled Hearts Beat Loud is indeed heart-bursting. It’s an unsung gem about family bonds and the power of music used as a form of connection. Additionally, as it follows the turbulent relationship between record store owner Frank (Nick Offerman) and his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), their troubles don’t involve Frank accepting of Sam’s queerness. Already out of the closet, Sam finds love with Rose (Sasha Lane) over the course of summer vacation as she prepares to head off for college. Their amusing chemistry helps make Hearts Beat Loud the bittersweet joy of a film that it is.
Fire Island (2022)
First off, any film that knows Britney Spears’ “Sometimes” is a bop deserves high marks. In all seriousness, this newly released modern gay spin on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice thrives on its humor, eroticism, and most importantly, its dramatic heft. As amusing as it is seeing Bowen Yang sing karaoke and the main gang honoring the greatness of Marisa Tomei, Fire Island is an earnest telling of lifelong friendships that occasionally touches on body standards in the gay dating world and the feeling of being an outsider within the gay community. After making Spa Night and the sublime Driveways, this is another win for director Andrew Ahn.
Shiva Baby (2020)
Shiva Baby is quite a scary non-horror film. The claustrophobic setting and eerie score by Ariel Marx heighten the anxiety felt by Danielle (Rachel Sennott) as she attends a shiva, dealing with overbearing relatives as well as run-ins with both her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) and married sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari). As the film handles Danielle’s bisexuality, it doesn’t show her as preferring one sex over the other and admirably has her showing a clear sense of self-realization. Even with her mother saying her sexuality is just a phase, Danielle firmly knows it’s not. While Danielle may be uncertain about life after school, she is still firmly aware of her sexual identity and she’s played with seamless charisma by lead actress Rachel Sennott.