A Sign on the Door
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A Sign on the Door

12 Queer Films I’m Watching This Year And Why

In Between (2016). Directed by Maysaloun Hamoud.

1. Pariah (2011) — Dir. Dee Rees

“A Brooklyn teenager juggles conflicting identities and risks friendship, heartbreak, and family in a desperate search for sexual expression.”

Pariah has been on my watchlist since high school, so I’m making it my top priority this year. Letterboxd reviewers seem to love it, praising the film for its moral complexity and empathy as well as its success in portraying the intersectional identities of gender, sexuality, and social status. The trailer is gorgeous. I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age film, and this one looks like it’ll break my heart and then build it back up again.

2. Shiva Baby (2020) — Dir. Emma Seligman

“A college student attends a family shiva where she is accosted by her relatives, outshined by her ex-girlfriend, and face-to-face with her sugar daddy and his family.”

I love MESS, and if anything sounds like an expertly crafted MESS, it’s Shiva Baby. I’ve been looking forward to this one since last year, but I’ve been putting it off because it sounds awfully anxiety-inducing. But no more waiting — I’m going to prove I can do this. Reviewers have described it as claustrophobic and applauded the editing for creating the perfect tense atmosphere.

3. Plan B (2021) — Dir. Natalie Morales

“After a regrettable first sexual encounter, a straight-laced high school student and her slacker best friend have 24 hours to hunt down a Plan B pill in America’s heartland.”

I was introduced to Plan B because of the Yhara Zayd video, “The Raunchy Comedy Reframed” (HIGHLY recommend). Teen comedies can be really hit or miss, but according to reviewers, this one strikes a perfect balance between comedy and emotion, tackling some very serious issues teens face and the topic of reproductive rights. And I’m overjoyed to see a boy playing hockey in a cardigan.

4. The Living End (1992) — Dir. Gregg Araki

“Luke is a gay hustler. Jon is a movie critic. Both are HIV positive. They go on a hedonistic, dangerous journey. Their motto: ‘Fuck the world’.”

I’ve been seeking out a film to be my introduction to the Araki oeuvre, and I discovered this odd piece while researching to write this article. The Living End is described as “the gay Thelma and Louise,” but to be honest, I haven’t seen Thelma and Louise either (please put down your pitchforks). I’ve been doing a deep dive into ’80s and early ’90s pop culture ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began because, unfortunately, our current political atmosphere holds disturbing parallels to the Reagan era and his administration’s apathetic response to the American AIDS crisis. If there’s a time when The Living End feels eerily relevant, I’ll bet it’s now.

5. Oriented (2015) — Dir. Jake Witzenfeld

“Documentary of three gay men living in the Palestine-Israel region trade reflections on their situation and that of the region they live.”

I can’t quite remember where I heard about this one, but recently I’ve been looking for media that can help me become more informed about Southwest Asia, which has been horrifically stereotyped in USA media. Reviewers on Letterboxd have praised Oriented for its vibrance and naturalism. The documentary follows three friends living in Israel all facing challenges of place, identity, and violence. One man is considering coming out of the closet, another is debating whether he can fully inhabit a Palestinian identity, and another is dealing with the disturbing irony of falling for a Zionist.

6. Rafiki (2018) — Dir. Wanuri Kahiu

“Kena and Ziki long for something more. Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls resist and remain close friends, supporting each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety.”

While I’ve been looking for more films about queer friendship, transgender experiences, and complicated queer histories to add to my love for typical gay romantic dramas and comedies, Rafiki is one of those exciting romantic films that I can’t help but put on this list. As far as I’m aware, I haven’t seen any films from Kenya yet, and Rafiki speaks truth to power, banned upon its release in Kenya, where homosexuality is still illegal. I love the idea of watching two friends-turned-lovers deal with a political rivalry on top of the homophobia we commonly see addressed in lesbian media. And it’s a very surface-level comment to add, but the use of color in this movie already has me obsessed.

7. Happy Together (1997) — Dir. Wong Kar-wai

“A couple take a trip to Argentina in search of a new beginning, but instead find themselves drifting ever further apart.”

As far as I’m concerned, Happy Together is part of the Queer Cinema Canon. It’s on every list — and not just the “LGBT films to watch before you die” kind; Happy Together is included in the Criterion Collection. I haven’t seen it despite having known about it for years because, well, it’s going to hurt. A lot. The film is described as “lushly stylized,” and “emotionally raw,” regarded as one of the best pieces of the ’90s New Queer Cinema era. Honestly, there’s nothing I can say here that hasn’t already been written — it should go without saying that I have to watch it this year.

8. The Boys in the Band (1970) — Dir. William Friedkin

“A witty, perceptive and devastating look at the personal agendas and suppressed revelations swirling among a group of gay men in Manhattan. Harold is celebrating a birthday, and his friend Michael has drafted some other friends to help commemorate the event. As the evening progresses, the alcohol flows, the knives come out, and Michael’s demand that the group participate in a devious telephone game, unleashing dormant and unspoken emotions.”

The Boys in the Band, based on a 1968 Off-Broadway play by the same name, is yet another film on this list considered a classic. It was remade in 2020, though I didn’t hear much about it from friends OR Netflix, the platform which released it. Ratings for the original are generally high, but because the movie takes place before the gay rights movement of the 70s, the characters have a “self-lacerating vision of themselves” (Edward Guthmann — San Francisco Chronicle), and this makes it difficult for some queer audiences to watch. Still, I find that many of us focus little on pre-Stonewall LGBT history aside from cataloging remarkable historical figures or gesturing vaguely toward ancient Greece (which still wasn’t a great time for women), so I’m ready to give The Boys in the Band a shot.

9. In Between (2016) — Dir. Maysaloun Hamoud

“The film captures the daily duality of three young Palestinian women in Tel Aviv, caught between hometown tradition and big city abandon, and the price they must pay for a lifestyle that seems obvious to many: the freedom to work, party, fuck, and choose.”

I found out about this one from a screening at my (previously) local library, but by the time I’d seen the poster, I’d already missed it. In Between caught my attention with its stylish, somewhat punkish protagonists and its feminist logline. The film has achieved a “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 98% approval rating. Described by Mark Kermode in The Guardian as “Balancing tragicomic relationship blues with sharp sociopolitical observation”, In Between gets me excited for tension, subversion, and all the conflict that comes with being a woman and seeking liberation.

10. Young Soul Rebels (1991) — Dir. Isaac Julien

“Young Soul Rebels is a 1991 film by Isaac Julien which examines the interaction between youth cultural movements in Britain. Skinheads, Punks & Soulboys along with the political and cultural tensions between them.”

I’ve been on a bit of an 70s/80s youth counterculture research trip recently, and that led me to dig up this film. I was eager for Young Soul Rebels from the first riffs of a funky beat and the dorky, chair-swirling high-five in the trailer. Then, suddenly, we find ourselves in an ominous turn: one young man accused of murder, a tape carrying evidence set aflame. Viewers praise Isaac Julien’s project for shining a spotlight on the overlooked black and gay underground music subcultures of Britain as well as the racism and homophobia present in punk. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll make it past finishing this article without watching it.

11. Female Trouble (1974) — Dir. John Waters

“The life and times of Dawn Davenport, showing her progression from bratty schoolgirl to crazed mass murderer — all of which stems from her parents’ refusal to buy her cha-cha heels for Christmas.”

Female Trouble is a John Waters dark comedy which features in the starring role iconic drag queen Divine (whose famous delivery of “Kill everyone now. Condone first degree murder.” lives rent-free in my mind). It’s another Criterion Collection pick, described as “inject[ing] the Hollywood melodrama with anarchic decadence” on Criterion’s website. In a collection of essays titled Shock Value, Waters wrote, “Since the character turns from teenage delinquent to mugger, prostitute, unwed mother, child abuser, fashion model, nightclub entertainer, murderess, and jailbird, I felt at last Divine had a role she could sink her teeth into.” If that wild, eclectic list hadn’t already sold me, I don’t know what would.

12. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) — Dir. Celine Sciamma

“On an isolated island in Brittany at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.”

So, technically, I’ve already started this one. I fell asleep less than a quarter of the way through (which I don’t blame Sciamma for — I was the one who tried to watch a slow, utterly sensual film in a dark room during a period of my life when I was lucky to get six hours of sleep at a time). Portrait of a Lady on Fire swept through sapphic communities online, both achieving widespread adoration and further necessitating a discussion about why all the lesbian movies coming out right now seem to be lily-white period pieces (Check out this wonderful article on the topic by Kira Deshler on Screen Queens). Still, I get chills when I see Héloïse’s unnerving stare, and it’s about time I inally finish this film. It has the highest Letterboxd rating (4.4) on this list! What am I waiting for?



A Sign on the Door aims to ignite conversations centering intersectional identities and stories. LGBTQ+, feminist, anti-racist, empowering narratives from anyone wanting to share a little piece of themselves or an example of real-life learning are welcome.

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