25 Great Movies Featuring Prominent LGBT Characters
Being gay is big news right now! At the same time we have Michael Sam, a college football player entering the NFL draft aiming to become the first openly gay player in that league. Stealing his thunder was Jason Collins who became the first openly gay athlete in the major American sports when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets. While the sports world argued and debated the issues of gays in locker rooms, Ellen Page; an Oscar nominee for Juno and star of blockbusters like Inception and the X-Men films came out. Page said, “I am tired of lying by omission.”
2014 may seem like a progressive period for America. We have a black President, strong female contenders, and the Supreme Court invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, which basically legalized gay marriage. However there is a huge wave of resistance. Arizona just tried passing a “pro-discrimination” bill which would allow businesses to deny service to gays. The LGBT community has been fighting its own unique civil rights movement in the United States. Whereas Civil Rights in the 50s and 60s was usually reserved for people of color and the women’s liberation and rights movements were obviously female driven; LGBT rights blur all those lines. Discrimination based on one’s sexual preferences, decisions, or lifestyle can include anyone of any race, ethnicity, or gender.
America’s sexual repression is as old as its racism and sexism. Some of our nation’s first laws were “decency laws”. Look them up; count how many states still have laws on the books outlawing oral or anal sex. In the 1986 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick that sodomy laws were constitutional (basically making sex between consensual same sex couples illegal). That was not overturned until 2003. In 1993 Brandon Teena was shot and killed. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die in Laramie Wyoming. This isn’t the 1860s, or the 1950s. This is my lifetime, our lifetime.
The movie industry; often chided by conservatives as a bastion of liberalism, has helped tell the stories of many members of the LGBT community. Many characters have been flamboyant, many sheltered and shy, and some open and proud. Many characters listed in the films below are as Ellen Page said, are “lying by omission.”
I am proud to support to LGBT cause, and for those who do not support it, I hope maybe you watch some of the films listed and you may in fact change your minds. I’d like to also give a special shout out of thanks to my sister, Emily, one of the bravest people I know, who is out and helped supply some films for me to watch for this list.
25. Gods and Monsters (1998)
Character: James Whale
To be openly gay in Hollywood today is not easy; ask Ellen Page. To be openly gay in the 1930s is something else; ask James Whale. If you think you know the name, it’s because Whale famously directed Frankenstein and the superior sequel, Bride of Frankenstein.
The film depicts Whale in his final years, post Korean War and his new found obsession, a hunky gardener named Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser). Boone is clueless to the old man’s advances, agreeing to be his “model” while Whale paints. When Boone does awaken to his Whale’s sexuality, he doesn’t get freaked out, or violent, but rather is just passive to the situation.
Considering the 1950’s was the peak of McCarthyism and gays were a small step above Commies, it is amazing Boone acts as kindly as he does. They sit and talk and we find out through flashbacks that Boone and his then girlfriend watched Frankenstein back when it debuted.
The film doesn’t tell a thrilling story but is memorable for the perfectly cast Ian McKellen (an openly gay thespian) playing one of Hollywood’s most famous openly gay directors. It also helped launch the career of McKellen; We know he was an established actor and 59, but this earned him his first Oscar nomination, and within 3 years he was Magneto AND Gandalf!
24. The Kids Are Alright (2010)
Characters: Nic & Jules
Nic and Jules are a lesbian couple with 2 kids through artificial insemination. Very early in this film, the theory that gay couples are “exciting” is broken. They are just as bland and boring as any same sex couple, and deal with the exact same problems. Their kids start pondering who their “father” is and seek out a relationship with him.
The kids’ mothers are very different. Nic is a doctor and very controlling. Jules has gone through several careers and now starting a landscaping business. Nic not only is the bossy mom, but as the breadwinner in the family ends up as the dominant personality of the two. It comes as no surprise when Paul, the kids’ sperm donor father, hires Jules to landscape his yard; he and Jules end up in an affair.
As with Chasing Amy, the lesbian was only a lesbian until the proper man entered her life. But this film is different. Jules doesn’t sleep with Paul out of sexual desire, but rather feeling raw emotional connection. She feels neglected by Nic and unappreciated. In many ways that’s what makes this a great film.
The two actresses are Julianne Moore (Jules) and Annette Bening (Nic). Their flawless performances carry what would be just another in a slew of romantic dram-edies. . It shows that gay/lesbian couples are just like straight couples, with the same problems, drama, and flaws.
23. The Birdcage (1996)
Characters: Armand & Albert Goldman
It’s always tense meeting your prospective in-laws for the first time. You want to give a good impression and make sure you don’t embarrass yourself OR your child. Now imagine you are Armand and Albert Goldman, a gay couple whose son is marrying a right wing conservative Senator’s daughter. Yikes! That’s the premise for Oscar winner Mike Nichols’s remake of the French film, La Cage aux folles.
Perfectly cast are Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as Armand and Albert, Lane dances in drag nightly, the star act in Armand’s nightclub show. They are begged by Val (Armand’s son with his one straight tryst) to hide the sexuality, and act like a perfectly normal couple. Val’s potential in-laws (Gene Hackman & Dianne Wiest) are on a committee for moral order.
Much of the early film is spent “de-gay-ing” Armand and Albert, specifically Albert. However, the film taking a familiar course has the conservative homophobic couple discovering the secret truths about their new in-laws and rejecting them, only to need their help to escape from unwanted paparazzi attention. Dress the conservative couple in drag to escort them out unseen of course!
While it is played strictly for laughs you can easily see the undercurrent many serious issues. Hackman’s Senator is close to a modern day tea party conservative. We know that in politics, a relationship between these two kids in highly unlikely and will probably end in tabloid disaster.
22. Beginners (2010)
Character: Hal Fields
70+ years. Imagine living a lie for nearly eight decades. That’s what Hal Fields does in Beginners. Hal, played wonderfully by Christopher Plummer waits till his wife passes away to come out of the closet, a surprise to say the least to his son.
Aptly titled, this film shows that life can only truly start for you when you allow it to, and that means coming to terms with your true self. Hal doesn’t just come out, but the near octogenarian finds a young lover, and becomes a fixture in the gay community. What’s even more alarming than waiting all the time to come out, is that his wife knew about his sexuality and they kept it secret. Plummer’s performance shows the impact that honesty can have. Hal’s last few years are emotionally liberating and he’s truly happy.
The film also shows the impact that “the closet” has not just on individuals keeping their sexuality a secret but their families as well. Hal’s son, the main protagonist in the film was greatly affected by his parents’ marriage and never felt close to his father until his dying years.
21. The Crying Game (1993)
Jody is kidnapped British soldier. Fergus is the sympathetic IRA member who is one of his captors. They talk, mostly about Dil, Jody’s girlfriend in London who he describes as someone who will sting you because it’s “in her nature.” Fergus tries to help Jody escape but Jody is killed and Fergus needs to flee. He ends in London, now going by Jimmy and goes to find Dil. Things quickly heat up between them, except for a small secret… Dil is… a transgender.
This was one of the most shocking reveals in movie history and helped turn Crying Game from a sleeper hit to must see Oscar contender. It also launched the short but historic career of Jaye Davidson who earned an Oscar nomination in his first role, only to retire after his second (he played Ra in Stargate).
This was one of the most talked about moments of the 90s. Jimmy is disgusted by the reveal, and walks away. But the circumstances of the film bring them back together and when Jimmy’s former IRA partners come looking for him, it’s Dil who saves him. When the police arrive, Jimmy takes the rap for Dil because it’s “in his nature.” Films like this helped take the LGBT taboo and make it a part of a violent real world and the ending shows even the most hardened people can overcome stereotypes.
20. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Jared Leto made an extraordinary return to acting as a transsexual with AIDS in Best Picture nominee, Dallas Buyers Club. She is hospital roomies with Ron Woodruff the rough and tough bull rider homophobe who finds out his life of sexual conquests has landed him with AIDS and “30 days to live.”
Ron, not accepting this truth, goes to Mexico to seek non-FDA approved drugs and starts feeling better. His plan is to smuggle these “legal” medications into the US and start a “club” to distribute the drugs to its members. Rayon, despite a rough start, earns Ron’s respect by playing him in poker in the hospital. She becomes his partner in the club as she has access to an abundant supply of AIDS patients in her “community” and who go to the same clubs and bars.
Their partnership blossoms into a legitimate friendship helped by Rayon’s drug addiction which Ron has to deal with. Their best scene together is when a former friend of Ron’s (they all ditched him because logically he’s a fag since he has AIDS), sees them grocery shopping. Ron stands up for her and defends her showing his complete 180 degree turn as he now sides with the GLBT community as partners in their joint fight for outright survival.
19. Philomena (2013)
Character: Michael Hess (Anthony Lee)
Philomena is an Oscar nominated true story about an old Irish woman trying to finish a 50-year for her son who was all-but kidnapped by the nuns at the Abbey she was sent to as a youth. It was a huge sin to have a baby out of wedlock in 1950’s Ireland, and Philomena Lee was one of many young ladies forced to work in near slave quarters while their children were sold into adoption.
Martin Sixsmith is the reporter who takes her story (a human interest story, way below his usual level) and runs with it, taking her to the US to pursue her lost son Anthony. We find that Anthony, brought up as Michael Hess, is actually dead. He died from AIDS in 1995, but his life was quite fascinating. He was a top republican lawyer to both the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations. He lived life in the closet, especially as a republican in the 80s when Reagan did next to nothing to quell the AIDS epidemic.
As we learn from Michael’s sister and former lover, he was happy but angry at his political bosses for their turning aside of the AIDS issue and gay rights in general. One might wonder what Michael Hess would’ve been able to achieve just a decade later as gay rights was burgeoning on becoming a hot button issue.