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The 11 Best LGBT Documentaries of 2016

Laverne Cox

Here are some of the year's best films about true LGBT stories.


Strike a Pose

The dancers in Madonna's controversial 1990 tour and film, Truth or Dare, tell their remarkable stories in Strike a Pose. The documentary offers behind-the-scenes details from the tour and reveals what happened to the performers -- six gay, one straight -- in the years after.

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four

In 1994, four young Latina lesbians -- Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez -- were accused of the gang rape of two young girls. Their wrongful conviction and the fight for their exoneration are portrayed in this riveting true-crime documentary from Deborah Esquenazi. The film is an eye-opening look at the biases of the criminal justice system, particularly for members of vulnerable communities. It is also a story of triumph, as the women were recently exonerated after their decades-long struggle.

Political Animals

In the 1990s four out female legislators -- Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Jackie Goldberg, and Christine Kehoe -- were elected in California. Political Animals shows how this remarkable group of pioneering women helped advance LGBT rights in an era rife with opposition to queer people. Their struggles and victories can be a blueprint for younger generations as to how they too may resist oppression during a Donald Trump presidency.


Outraged by the historical whitewashing of Roland Emmerich's Stonewall? Then don't miss Major!, a documentary on legendary activist and Stonewall riots veteran Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, now 76. The film shows the pioneer's decades-long fight for equality, including her work to shine a light on the injustices faced by trans people in the prison-industrial complex.


Paris Is Burning first raised the curtain on New York's ball scene in 1990. Kiki, a new film by Sara Jordeno and Twiggy Pucci Garcon, revisits the famous drag scene as well as the LGBT people of color who vogue there. Kiki celebrates its subjects, but it also takes care to train its lens on the struggles many still face both personally and systemically due to discrimination.

Jewel's Catch One

The club Jewel's Catch One, known as the "Studio 54 of the West Coast," shuttered its doors this year after four decades as a celebrity hotspot and a refuge for Los Angeles' queer community. Fortunately, the documentary Jewel's Catch One is here to preserve its legacy. Filmmaker C. Fitz spoke with owner Jewel Thais-Williams as well as a host of luminaries, among them Sharon Stone, Madonna, and Rep. Maxine Waters, who share memories and history in this glowing tribute.

The Trans List

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, the acclaimed documentarian of The Black List and The Out List, trains his lens on the luminaries of the transgender community in The Trans List. The film is introduced by Janet Mock, who speaks with Kylar Broadus, Caroline Cossey, Amos Mac, Bamby Salcedo, Buck Angel, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Nicole Maines, Shane Ortega, Caitlyn Jenner, Alok Vaid-Menon, and Laverne Cox about their experiences and battles for equality.

Check It

The Check It, dubbed a "gay gang" by the media, is a group of over 200 LGBT people of color in Washington, D.C. To many, it is a source of pride -- a vibrant community where members of vulnerable populations can find protection. To others, it is a menace, a cause of crime and chaos just steps from the White House. The must-see documentary Check It shows how the shame belongs to society, which leaves these young people without the support they need to survive and thrive.

I Am Not Your Negro

The late black and gay writer James Baldwin is given new voice in I Am Not Your Negro. Director Raoul Peck offers viewers the opportunity to spend 90 minutes with Baldwin's words -- his interviews, manuscripts, and influences -- which offer his honest and illuminating insights on race in America.

Free CeCe

CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman of color, was was arrested in 2011 for fighting back and fatally wounding an attacker who assaulted her and a group of friends in Minneapolis. Intitially charged with second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of at least 25 years, McDonald took a plea bargain that saw her plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter. She spent the next 19 months in a men's prison, where she was frequently placed in solitary confinement, allegedly for her own protection. Filmmaker Jac Gares was present the day McDonald was released in 2014, picking her up from prison and bringing her to freedom, along with Free CeCe producer Laverne Cox. The moving scene, which is captured in the documentary, is just one of many that highlights the systemic injustices that many transgender people face in U.S. prisons.


Journalist David Farrier was confronted with homophobic attacks when he began digging into the arena of "competitive endurance tickling," a secretive subculture in which men pay to be tied up and tickled. That just made him dig deeper. What he discovered was no laughing matter -- a network of hidden tickling facilities in Los Angeles as well as a shady world of criminal activity, secret identities, and threats for those who try to expose it.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.