ten films and tv shows that examined queer sexuality in 2017
Reject heteronormativity this Christmas by turning off "Love Actually" and watching all these nice gay things instead.
This article was originally published by i-D UK.
We’re lucky to live in an era that’s learning to embrace stories about people who exist outside of the cis-straight-white power bubble. A while ago, a film’s success relied on one of two things: either how strongly it reflected the lives of cis-het, "white picket fence" people, or how far removed it was from that world — on a fantastical level, of course.
In the mid 2000s, as couple-based rom-coms and superhero movies ran wild at the box office, it seemed like moviegoers were more willing to see multiple renditions of the same thing than they were to make time for the lives and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. Historically, queer cinema has been made for indie audiences and queer people, but 2017 signaled the start of a loud and proud new beginning. With the success of Moonlight, movie studios are now more willing to put queer stories at the forefront, and our movie audiences are more wise and woke as a result.
So screw superheroes for a sec, here are the films and TV shows (since TV’s the new Hollywood, obv) that hit our screens in 2017 that played a part in switching up the safe, straight moviemaking world this year.
Where better to start than with the modest masterpiece that kicked off queer 2017? Moonlight is a celestial beauty that we’re all blessed to have. The winner of this year’s Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Barry Jenkins’s seismic feature made an inimitable mark on the movie biz by telling the story of a young black boy in underclass Miami decoding his queerness. A niche story in practically every respect, the film still touched the heart of everybody who saw it.
Based on the real life experiences of the men who co-penned the script, Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins (who also directed it), it played a pivotal part in breaking down the idea that films with gay protagonists were only suited for queer audiences. Featuring some of the year’s most remarkable performances — not least the suave, i-D-featured Ashton Sanders — we have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll still be talking about this beauty decades down the line.
No modern filmmaker rejects the straight mainstream establishment quite like Bruce LaBruce does. The Canadian director, known for his ability to, ahem… straddle both arthouse cinema and pornography, is still making brilliant and audacious films for his fans to watch.
His latest, the woman-ruled caper The Misandrists is no different. Set in the German "cuntryside" during the late 90s, it tells the story of a lesbian feminist terrorist cell attempting to eradicate the patriarchy and start a new world order. The group live and work under the rule of "Big Mother," who, in true LaBruce fashion, encourages her disciples to engage in sex and frolicking to flaunt their power. Visually stunning and cast to match LaBruce’s aesthetic more than anything, it would be easy to dismiss this as a shallow piece of work. Instead, as a camp and gloriously crass essay on gender politics, The Misandrists is just a bigot’s worst nightmare. And is all the better for it.
For most actors, a silver screen debut will set the bar for how the rest of their career will pan out. So when Harris Dickinson, then a teenager, nabbed the lead role of Frankie in Beach Rats — one filled with full frontal nudity, casual drug use and gay sex — he was at the risk of limiting himself professionally. But thanks to his haunting and restrained performance in Eliza Hittman’s queer indie, instead he became one of 2017’s breakout stars. This film nabs a spot on our list thanks to its fluid portrayal of fledgling sexual identity — a filmic badge of honor for those who don’t wish to fit into a society-set shoe box.
2017 was the year we well and truly threw labels out the window, and that statement couldn’t ring truer in any other film this year than Princess Cyd, the latest film from American director Stephen Cone. His film follows a free-spirited 16-year-old spending her summer with her aunt in Chicago, away from her sullen home setup with her lonely single father. There, with the opportunity to explore, she meets a local barista named Katie. As if from nowhere, an attraction quickly forms, and she’s given the chance to experience a side of herself she barely knew existed.
Jessie Pinnick does a spectacular job of slipping into the titular character’s skin: a boisterous young girl who starts to comprehend her own vision of sexuality. It’s 96 minutes of super cool, poignant cinema that has pride and liberation in its bones, and is one of the most underappreciated films of the year.
Scored by the cooing of birds and the gentle hum of running water, The Ornithologist is an erotic mystery, an allegorical nightmare, and a twisted thriller rolled into one. Criminally overlooked despite being one of the best films of the year, it’s not a typical queer movie: it takes a religious legend and recreates it in a gloriously blasphemous manner.
Directed by Jõao Pedro Rodriguez, the film follows Fernando, a gay ornithologist lost in rural Portugal, who’s in intermittent contact with his boyfriend in the "outside world" thanks to his shaky phone reception. While in the wilderness, he experiences a series of events that subtly draw parallels to the life of Saint Anthony of Padua, but in a more messed up manner. For those who loved the Hitchcockian thriller Stranger By The Lake a few years back, this brilliant work of queer art is well worth seeking out.
Call Me by Your Name
Few films are adored enough to spawn a whole army of internet stans; even less of them are tales of teenage lads experiencing gay awakenings in rural Italy. But that’s just the unlikely response that Call Me by Your Name got when it premiered alongside at Sundance this January. Harnessed by a harmony that’s not usually explored in the perilous tropes of queer cinema, the film is a masterful study of what it’s like to feel affection, admiration, and lust for the first time. It’s no surprise that it’s garnered a hell of a lot of Oscar buzz!
Angels in America at the National Theatre
Okay, we’re cheating a bit with this one, but few theater productions are as monumental and industry-shifting as 2017’s revival of Angels in America was. And technically speaking, it did hit theaters! Starring Andrew Garfield in the lead role, this five-star show from famed theatre director Marianne Elliott sold out its entire run in London in a mere matter of minutes. And in February of next year, New Yorkers will have their chance to catch it too.
A true epic clocking in at over seven hours long, Angels in America takes us into the heart of 1980s New York as its queer citizens battle the AIDS epidemic and the Reagan administration that was desperate to shun them.
Joachim Trier is used to making films that make people uncomfortable. His breakout, Oslo, August 31st, told the story of a drug addict running away from rehab to live in the real world for a day. His English language debut, Louder Than Bombs, was a car crash-spun drama starring Isabelle Huppert and Jesse Eisenberg. But it’s his latest work , a left-field horror about a woman who develops ethereal powers, that has seriously struck a chord with critics and audiences alike.
In Thelma, the titular character has escaped her Christian family to start a new life at university in Oslo, where she meets Anja, another student who she starts to have feelings for, and supernatural abilities are exposed. While most films with queer characters have plots shaped entirely by sexuality, Thelma uses it as a clever subplot for a story about escaping what’s expected of us and forming our own identity. Told with a much more sinister twist, think of this as a queerer version of Stephen King’s Carrie.
When We Rise
With the continued rise of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, the audience and space for LGBTQ+ entertainment has grown and, in the case of some shows, gone mainstream. While series like Amazon’s Transparent (that’s been renewed for another season sans controversial lead star Jeffrey Tambour) are thriving, there was a televised, LGBT-friendly mini-series made by an Oscar-winner that somehow slipped under the radar.
When We Rise, created by Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and director Gus Van Sant, chronicles the modern history of the LGBTQ community’s most prolific activists, from the Stonewall Riots of the late 60s through to the present day. Not only does it tackle the rights of gay men, but Black’s series covers all bases, telling the stories of women’s rights campaigner Roma Guy, as well as Ken Jones, a man who fought hard to be heard as a gay man of color educating hundreds on the impact of AIDS.
God’s Own Country
What do you get when you mix Yorkshire farm life, fucking, and two handsome protagonists? God’s Own Country, that’s what. The debut feature from Francis Lee, this gem has been on everybody’s lips since it bowed at Sundance Film Festival back in January. While most queer films seem shaped by tragedy or conflict, God’s Own Country takes a more hopeful path with its two leads. Not only is it a love story told with grace and realism, a reflection of Francis Lee’s own rural upbringing, it also features the muddiest and, perhaps, most touching sex scene you’ll see in a film all year.
Read: The 10 best films of 2017.