The LGBTQ+ community has been represented in film since it began over 100 years ago. However, the depictions of the LGBTQ+ community have not always been flattering due in equal parts to historic censorship and systemic prejudice. The introduction of the Hays Code (1934-1968) prohibited movie studios from producing favorable LGBTQ+ content, as according to the code, one was not allowed to portray “perverse” or “immoral” subjects such as queerness (amongst other things). Further to that, any queer-coded characters could not even be portrayed positively, but rather had to be shown as deviants, degenerates, and villains to green-light the films.
After the Stonewall Riots in 1969—which were instrumental in societal change—queer movies began to make their way into the mainstream in the 1970s, as the gay community was seen as a viable target market. Throughout the 80s, queer representation remained scant, mostly due to the AIDs epidemic and society’s misinformed panic surrounding it. In the 90s, however, several independent filmmakers began properly representing the queer community with engaging and empathetic stories, eventually known as the New Queer Cinema movement.
From this point onwards, society continued to progress in an upward motion, with Hollywood heavyweights even taking on queer film roles. Not to say there isn’t still room for improvement. In 2017 Moonlight made history as the first LGBTQ+ movie to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture. With all of that in mind, here are the best LGBTQ+ movies from the 2000s, chosen for their impact on queer cinema.
6 Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain is an adaptation by Ang Lee, based on Annie Proulx’s original short story. It follows the story of Ennis del Mar (the late Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cowboy and a ranch hand who secretly fall in love while working together in the summer of 1963. The two men are both in committed heterosexual relationships, which causes much internal conflict, especially coupled with the social climate of that time. Brokeback Mountain was nominated for several awards for its heartbreaking and powerful story. It is regarded as a major milestone in Gay Cinema, despite its straight male leads. It is also considered the first major mainstream LGBTQ+ film. Gyllenhaal and Ledger both give outstanding performances as well.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk recounts the true story of Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected official, and his emblazoned battle for gay rights. The movie follows Milk as he helped to shape a community for LGBTQ people in San Francisco in the 70s when homophobia was still rampant. The neighborhood where much of the movie takes place is now a prominent gay community in San Francisco called the Castro. Milk also covers Harvey’s death by assassination in 1978. Sean Penn won several awards for his brilliant performance in this critically acclaimed film.
4 A Single Man
Fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut is an incredibly stylish and emotional film based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same name. A Single Man tells the story of George Falconer (Colin Firth), a British University Professor living in L.A. who becomes severely depressed after his long-time partner is killed in a car accident. The movie is set nearly a year after the accident and is shot in flashback scenes as George contemplates suicide as a way to end his grief and pain. Firth, despite not having many scenes, puts his screen time to good use and uplifts this otherwise sad tale, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
3 Hedwig and The Angry Inch
Hedwig and The Angry Inch is John Cameron Mitchell’s adaptation of his off-Broadway musical. It follows the story of the titular character Hedwig (Mitchell), an aspiring rock star who flees from East Germany to America after a botched gender affirmation surgery. Hedwig tells her life story through song, as she follows around an ex-boyfriend (and rock star) Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), who stole her songs and her heart. The amazing original music steals the show in this fun, campy, cult classic which is also director, writer, and star John Cameron Mitchell’s directorial debut.
Directed by the late Jean-Marc Vallée, this powerful coming-of-age story is about a French-Canadian boy named Zachary (Marc-Andree Grondin) as he struggles with his budding homosexuality and homophobia in the ’60s and 70s. His father Gervais (Michael Cote) is a conservative Catholic and begins to reject and demoralize Zachary as he witnesses his journey of self-discovery. Upon witnessing Zachary and a schoolmate in a car together, Gervais sends Zachary to therapy to try to “cure” his homosexuality. The film was a critically acclaimed box office success and boasts a stellar soundtrack.
1 Saving Face
Directed by Alice Wu, Saving Face tells the story of Wilhelmina, a Chinese-American surgeon and closeted lesbian who falls in love with a woman, and must keep it a secret from her conservative mother (Joan Chen). The script is loosely based on Wu’s personal experience of coming out to her traditional Chinese mother. Not only does it tell an LGBTQ+ love story, but it also features an all-Asian-American cast—which, according to Indie Wire, almost didn’t happen. Saving Face is a funny heartfelt and entertaining romantic comedy for the LGBTQ+ community and the straight community alike. Alice Wu also directs Netflix’s teen queer rom-com The Half of It.
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