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20 Essential Black Queer Films
20 Essential Queer Black Films
From Moonlight to Tangerine, celebrate Black history and culture with this incredible range of films about the Black LGBTQ+ experience.
A hilarious (and touching) film that was shot on an iPhone, Tangerine follows transgender sex worker Sin-Dee Rella, having just served a 28-day jail term, discovering her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her with a cisgender woman. Her friend Alexandra joins her on a joyful and heartbreaking romp through Los Angeles, with Sean Baker directing the story to perfection.
Critically acclaimed and visually visceral, Pariah tells the story of 17-year-old Alike discovering her lesbian identity. The film deals with Alike's family dynamic as her mother slowly starts to disapprove of her daughter's burgeoning sexuality. Out director Dee Rees is now up for an Oscar for this year's Mudbound.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
James Baldwin, one of the most influential black queer voices in American history, had much to say about the icons around him. Decades after the writer and activist's death, a book he never finished about the murders of his peers Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Medgar Evers was transformed into this award-winning documentary.
The Color Purple (1982)
Based on bisexual author Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple chornicles the traumatic life of Celie, a Southern African-American woman living in the early 20th century. Celie overcomes racism and sexism and triumphantly finds herself in the process. In the Oscar-winning Steven Spielberg classic, Celie not only learns to love herself, but other women (though her same-sex attraction is explored more thoroughly in Walker's novel).
The Skinny (2012)
The Skinny follows five queer friends (Magnus, Kyle, Sebastian, Joey, and Langston) as they meet up for a weekend in New York City to celebrate Pride. The story sees all of the characters at various moments in their life, each experiencing different but important events while in New York.
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
The first feature film by a black lesbian, The Watermelon Woman tells the story of Cheryl, a young black lesbian who works at a video rental store. She is simultaneously trying to make a film about an actress known as the Watermelon Woman who played a mammy-type figure in an old movie she watched.
The 2017 Best Picture Oscar-winner Moonlight is an astonishing coming-of-age film about Chiron, a black youth growing up in Miami. Chiron, seem through three different phases of life, struggles with being poor, black, gay, and forgotten. Barry Jenkins pulls amazing performances from actors like Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae.
The true story of Bessie Smith -- a queer 1920s blues singer -- is a stunner, with Queen Latifah bringing her to life. Bessie's bisexual life is not forgotten in the Emmy-winning HBO film, thankfully.
Naz & Maalik (2014)
An intersectional achievement, this film follows two young closeted black Muslim men who begin a secret relationship in Brooklyn. Their story soon becomes further complicated when they accidentally get involved in an FBI investigation.
Tongues Untied (1989)
Blending documentary and fiction, the film does not follow one specific character; instead, it aims to tell a larger, overarching story about the experience of black gay men.
Paris Is Burning (1990)
In this classic documentary about the voguing culture in New York City, the real-life stars pirouette past racism and homophobia.
The unofficial sequel to Paris Is Burning, Kiki profiles LGBT youth coming of age in the ball scene.
Set It Off (1996)
Four black women plan to rob a bank, each with their own fascinating motivation. The queer girl of the bunch, Cleo, needs money to bolster her butch cred. F. Gary Gray directed this 1996 film about four black women; a very different project than the other big-budget black-led female film of that time, Waiting to Exhale.
Brother to Brother (2004)
Art student Perry befriends an elderly homeless man named Bruce and vicariously experiences Bruce's life as a black gay writer during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
Directed by Patrik-Ian Polk, master of exploring LGBT and African-American intersections, Punks is Friends, except everyone's black and gay. The film was the source material for the hit Logo series Noah's Arc.
Young Soul Rebels (1991)
A coming-of-age film centered on 1970s British youth cultural movements, Young Soul Rebels is a love story between a gay punk and a soulboy -- a member of the soul scene -- who face racism and homophobia in both West Indian and white communities.
Patrik-Ian Polk does it again, with the help of Mo'Nique and Isaiah Washington, in this adaptation of a novel about a boy from a small Mississippi town trying to reconcile his Baptist religion and his sexuality, all while dealing with the disappearance of his younger sister.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)
Helmed by acclaimed theater director George C. Wolfe (Lackawanna Blues, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack), the film stars Oscar-winner Viola Davis as the queer singer and the late Chadwick Boseman. It costars Hit the Floor's Taylour Paige as Rainey's girlfriend Dussie Mae.
While the film is based on the real-life Rainey, it is a work of fiction that explores the Great Migration when Black people left the South for the North. Rainey was renowned for her sexually free songs that include the bisexual anthem "Prove It on Me Blues."
Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Lackawanna Blues) wrote the screenplay for the movie that also stars Michael Potts, out actor Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, Dusan Brown, Johnny Coyne, Jeremy Ramos, and Joshua Harto.
The Inspection (2022)
The Inspection is a drama starring Jeremy Pope and written/directed by out filmmaker Elegance Bratton, telling the autobiographical story of a Black gay man who is disowned by his family, kicked out of his home, and is forced to enlist in the Marine Corps after having little to no options with what to do in his life. Pope received acclaim for his performance, including a Golden Globe nomination.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021)
The life of bisexual blues singer Billie Holiday has been covered in pop culture before. Diana Ross played her in the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues, and Audra McDonald won a Tony Award for portraying her in the play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. But Lee Daniels's The United States vs. Billie Holiday, starring a riveting Andra Day in her first film role ever as the titular Holiday, goes deep into examining a government-led attempt to silence her for singing "Strange Fruit" in public. They claimed that the song, which depicts the lynching of Black people, incited violence.