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7 Must-See Docs Celebrating Iconic Black LGBTQ+ Historical Figures
Black History Month is here and what better way to celebrate than to learn more about the Black queer experience by watching documentaries about its trailblazers. From fashion icons to musicians to social justice activists whose works quite literally impact our lives for the better every day, these seven must-watch documentaries depict and celebrate their lives -- as they so richly deserve.
1. ‘My Name is Pauli Murray’ (2020)
Pauli Murray may not be a household name, but they should be. Murray was a nonbinary Black lawyer, activist, and poet who was instrumental in arguing for the 14th amendment's equal protection clause, which outlawed discrimination based on sex. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of their incredible life story. Available on Amazon.
2. ‘The Gospel According To André’ (2017)
Andre Leon Talley, who passed away in January, lived a truly unconventional and boundary-breaking life. This documentary follows Talley's journey from his humble roots as a child who lived in the segregated South to becoming the fashion world icon he's now remembered as. Available on HBO Max.
3. ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’ (2017)
In the summer of 1992, the body of transgender activist and drag queen Marsha P. Johnson was discovered in the Hudson River. While her death was ruled a suicide, many in her community weren't convinced and believed that Johnson was murdered. This film focuses on both her legacy as a pioneer in the community and the role she played at the Stonewall Riots, but also the injustices in how the police and media approached her death. Available on Netflix.
4. ‘Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin’ (2003)
Bayard Rustin was a civil rights activist, an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington -- and he was also an out gay man. This documentary chronicles his life as a civil rights pioneer and an out gay man living through the fiercely homophobic era of the 1940s through the 1960s. Available on Kanopy.
5. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ (2017)
In this fascinating and moving documentary, filmmaker Raoul Peck attempts to finish a book that novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet James Baldwin intended to write in 1979 but never completed, entitled Remember the House. It was to be a personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While Baldwin only wrote 30 pages, Peck envisions what it would have been through the use of the author's own words and archival footage. Available on Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu.
6. ‘Jewel’s Catch One’ (2016)
Caught between the racism of 1970s Los Angeles and the homophobia she perceived in her community, Jewel Thais-Williams found it impossible to find a space for Black LGBTQ+ people to congregate and let their hair down -- so she made it herself. She opened the Catch One club in 1973, one of the very first Black discos in the U.S. This documentary charts the club's history from inception to its closing in 2015.
7. ‘T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness: Queer Blues Divas of the 1920s’ (2017)
Black lesbian poet and novelist Jewelle Gomez narrates this short but fascinating documentary that shines a stage light on queer jazz divas of the 1920s including Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, and Ethel Waters. All were making music and living queer lives -- some openly, some hidden -- at a time where it was truly revolutionary. Available on Kanopy.