Written by Nisha Chandran and Manasa Sai
While books engage and entertain, movies help us see the world from new perspectives of people and make us experience different emotions. One of the most engaging mediums to strike a deep connection, movies elicit strong emotional responses that enable people to empathize with the LGBTQ culture.
Here is a curated list of documentaries and movies that can potentially deepen our understanding of the LGBTQ+ community:
- Eunuchs India’s Third Gender (1991) – This movie explores the ancient tradition of the Hijras (eunuchs/transgenders) of India and their shift in lifestyle from healing gurus to prostitution in modern India. They were seen as castrated men who dress as women and consider themselves female. Popularly as hijras, their culture and tradition come from the days when they were guards of the King’s palace. The film compares the way traditional hijras are treated to the way modern hijras are treated.
- Project Bolo: Indian LGBT Movement (2011) – For the first time in India, 20 LGBT persons in four cities provide an in-depth video interview in a candid manner to offer an inside view into their lives, views, and accomplishments in PROJECT BOLO, meaning ‘Project Speak Up’. These interviews give us a thorough insight about their lives – their growing up years, sexual explorations, coming out to family/friends/media, their romances and relationships, their fearless career paths, and their pioneering accomplishments. This multi-generational project highlights the important milestones of the Indian LGBT movement from the early the 60s to the early efforts at forming LGBTQ+ groups in Mumbai and New Delhi, the first gay newsletter, the first lesbian book, the formation of LGBT organizations, and various advocacy efforts leading to the historic Delhi High Court verdict on July 2nd, 2009 decriminalizing homosexuality.
- How To Survive A Plague (2012) – While we belong to the COVID era, AIDS in the year 2012 was also a similar deadly epidemic because of the lack of awareness of the way the disease spread. ‘How to Survive a Plague’ is a documentary about the distressing early years of the AIDS epidemic, and how the epidemic decimated the contribution of activist groups like ACT UP and TAG to resist an establishment that had abdicated all responsibility and duty of care to the LGBTQ+ community. Beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City, the documentary follows a group of AIDS activists and founders of the AIDS group ACT UP to exhibit their struggle for a response from the United States government and medical establishment in developing effective HIV/AIDS medications.
- Olly Alexander: Growing up Gay (2020) – Leading queer pop icon and friend of Stonewall, Olly Alexander explores the mental health issues faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community. This documentary was part of the broadcaster’s Gay Britannia season. The documentary portrays Olly Alexander, the charismatic frontman of the British electronica trio, and then delves into the lives of Sean and others in the LGBT community who are battling mental health disorders. Alexander’s charm opens the subjects of Growing Up Gay, from being Connor, a self-harming 13-year-old once thrown down a flight of stairs for coming out gay at school, to becoming Tom, an LGBT student who spirals through six cycles of binge eating and vomiting each day. Although the final destinations of every LGBTQ person showcased here are different in their own ways, it explains in-depth about the journeys, their battles with homophobia, and their own sexuality.
- Fire (1996) – The first Indian film to talk about lesbianism, Fire was a path-breaking movie that was made ahead of its time. Along with the sexual orientation of the protagonists, the movie also highlighted the oppression and marginalization that women face in a conservative, patriarchal structure. Directed by Deepa Mehta, the movie revolves around two women, Sita and Radha, who are married into the same family. Brilliantly portrayed by Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi, Sita, and Radha is women who choose to explore their sexualities as a result of unhappy marriages. Considered as one of the classics in Indian cinema, this one is a must-watch.
- Call me by your name (2017) – A sensitive and beautiful adaptation of André Aciman’s novel by the same name, this movie is considered as a modern masterpiece. A love story between 17-year-old Elio and his father’s student, 24-year-old Oliver, the movie sensually captures the passion and romance between the lead pair. The only movie to receive a 10-minute long ovation at the New York Film Festival, Call me by your name blends romance, lust, desire, selflessness, and soul in a deeply poetic manner.
- Carol (2015) – Set in the 1950s, this period movie about two women falling in loving and going through an intense, forbidden relationship, is characterised by power-packed performances lyrical cinematography, and great direction. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play the lead roles brilliantly with great sensitivity in a realistic way. The movie portrays identity, sexuality, friendship and marriage, and touches upon how lonely people when they are not allowed to be who they really are deep within.
- Boys don’t Cry (1999) – A biographical film, this film is a dramatized version of Brandon Teena, a trans man’s life, and how he lost his life to a hate crime. Nominated for multiple awards at the Oscars in 2000, Hillary Swank won the Best Actress Academy Award for her role as Brandon Teena in the movie. The movie not only replays the crime in a disturbing way but also deals with the sexual identity of the protagonist in a deeply nuanced, sensitive manner. Praised for brilliant direction and power-packed performances, this emotionally intense movie has garnered universal acclaim.
- Margarita with a straw (2014) – This movie portrays Laila, a creative and vibrant young woman with cerebral palsy, and her coming of age story. Aspirational and independent, she applies to New York University for a scholarship and gets admission for an under graduate course. How Laila meets a blind girl Khanum and enters into a complex relationship with her forms the rest of the story. Directed by Shonali Bose, the movie was critically acclaimed for its sensitive portrayal of disability, normalizing it to a large extent. The lead actor Kalki Koechlin’s highly nuanced, realistic and captivating portrayal of Laila was highly lauded. This heart-warming film touches upon multiple aspects of identity, aspiration, and transformation, and is considered a rare achievement for Indian cinema.
Apart from reflecting our complex and diverse cultures, films shape our beliefs and values. Great films cannot just entertain, educate, and inspire us in several ways, they can also awaken a deep sense of empathy in people. We hope you enjoy watching this list of movies, as much as we enjoyed curating it.