The United States just experienced a remarkable month of June, specifically with regard to the incredible strides made in LGBT rights movements. The month was already designated as Pride Month, marked by parades, demonstrations, and celebrations in cities all across the country. And when the Supreme Court voted by a 5-4 majority to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, the month took on a new meaning.
The Supreme Court ruling was in many ways the culmination of a long history of legal struggles for LGBT rights. While there’s a long way to go before we achieve full equality, it was an incredible event for LGBT couples, individuals, and supporters alike. With marriage legalized nationwide, same-sex couples can now enjoy not only the right to be married in a symbolic sense, but the full scale of legal rights associated with a marriage.
Naturally, it’s turned into a summer of celebration for those who support the ruling. To chip in from an entertainment prospective, we thought now seemed like the perfect time to think back on some of the great films that have, in various ways, advocated for LGBT community members and rights. So here’s a look at 10 of the best films for LGBT rights.
10. Desert Hearts (1985)
This 1985 film set largely in 1950s Nevada still stands as one of the most genuine depictions of same-sex love we’ve seen on the screen. Because films about LGBT relationships or rights movements are destined to be looked at as not just artistic, but political in nature, the relationships depicted therein can sometimes take on a forced or unnatural quality.
This is not the case in Desert Hearts, which tells the story of somewhat-rigid Columbia professor Vivian (Helen Shaver) divorcing and traveling west only to fall in love with a ranch owner’s daughter named Cay (Patricia Charbonneau). There’s not a whole lot else to it, but the connection between Vivian and Cay triumphantly carries what might have been a forgettable film in lesser hands.
9. Gods And Monsters (1998)
Gods And Monsters is a fictionalized account of aging director James Whale, who made the Frankenstein films. It’s a very interesting project in a number of ways.
For one, it provides a glimpse of what it might be like for an artist to look back at his most impactful work. However, what makes the film particularly significant among LGBT-themed movies is that Ian McKellen—an open homosexual and powerful gay rights advocate—played the role of Whale. It’s refreshing even now to see a true member of the LGBT community stepping into such an important role.
8. Longtime Companion (1989)
Starring Campbell Scott, Dermot Mulroney, and Mary-Louise Parker, Longtime Companion was really the first feature film to cover the spread of AIDS that plagued America, and particularly the homosexual community, in the ’80s.
While the more recent Dallas Buyers Club has since taken the torch for depicting this period of American history, and made a profound statement of its own, Longtime Companion more effectively took up the point of view of a gay male in the ’80s.
7. A Single Man (2009)
This film stars Colin Firth as a ’60s English professor who is suicidally depressed following the death of his male lover. It’s not a particularly uplifting movie, but it nevertheless makes a very powerful statement in depicting the depth of love and attachment that can exist in any relationship, regardless of gender.
6. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
The Kids Are All Right won a lot of awards in 2010 and was hailed for its courageous portrayal of an adult lesbian couple (played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore). But what really makes it unique on the spectrum of films related to the LGBT community is its greater look at the life of an entire family built around a same-sex marriage.
The plot primarily concerns the two daughters of Bening and Moore’s characters, and the introduction of their biological father (played by Mark Ruffalo) into the family dynamic.
5. Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)
If Desert Hearts is one of the best cinematic looks we’ve ever gotten at a romance between women, Blue Is The Warmest Colour might be the best depiction of the more intimate side of such a relationship.
It’s a long film almost entirely about a relationship between two young women—Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Lea Seydoux)—that thrives entirely due to the chemistry between the actresses. Whether weeping or sizzling, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux offer a dazzlingly deep performance together.
4. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Boys Don’t Cry stars Hilary Swank in a gut-wrenching role as female-born transgender Brandon Teena. While a lot of movies with LGBT subject matter endeavor to depict hope, romance, and/or realism, Boys Don’t Cry is one of the best at delving into the dark side of LGBT struggles.
It’s a powerful film that can be hard to watch at times, but it’s a necessary look at the very real persecution that exists in our country.
3. Milk (2008)
This is the true story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to win an election in the United States. Sean Penn takes up the role and simply does a sensational job with the character in one of the most significant and uplifting portrayals of what it takes to spark social and political progress.
The best thing about it all is that Milk, while leading a sensational life, is portrayed as a regular man. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review of Milk, “He shows what such an ordinary man can achieve” at the right time, in the right circumstances. In a way, this movie is inspiration for anybody who hopes to make a difference in the world.
2. Paris Is Burning (1990)
While Milk depicts a very public movement on behalf of LGBT rights, Paris Is Burning, in some ways, is a celebration of how persecuted individuals have often managed to find one another and live their lives their own way—even if it has to be out of the public eye.
More specifically, this is a documentary about a sort of drag queen underground that existed in New York City in the 1980s, and it’s fascinating from beginning to end.
1. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
With a long list of Academy Award nominations to its credit, Brokeback Mountain is arguably the most critically well-received film on this list. On the surface, it’s the story of a love affair between two cowboys, played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.
However, Ledger and Gyllenhaal do a miraculous job of conveying the conflicting emotions that can exist in any relationship that society may deem anything other than ordinary, as well as that love is more real than any of them.