This month, we celebrate Black History Month to recognize the accomplisments and contributions of those who push for visibility in the black and LGBTQ communities. While progress has been made in telling more stories inclusive of and centered on black LGBTQ characters, there is still a long way to go. According to the 2016 Studio Responsibility Index, GLAAD only counted four black LGBTQ characters included in the 126 major studio films released in 2015.
Films like the critically acclaimed and GLAAD Media Award-nominated Moonlight are bringing more groundbreaking stories of black LGBTQ characters to our screens. Check out some films and documentaries below in alphabetical order, available to stream now, highlighting the voices of black LGBTQ people and share your favorites with us in the comments!
The HBO film Bessie tells the story of Bessie Smith (played by Queen Latifah), the legendary bisexual jazz and blues singer, known as “The Empress of Blues.” The film also stars Mo’Nique as queer blues singer Ma Rainey, and Tika Sumpter as Lucille, a performer and Bessie's love interest. Bessie is written and directed by out filmmaker Dee Rees. The film, available on HBO Now and HBO Go, previously received the GLAAD Media Award in Outstanding TV Movie or Limited Series.
Blackbird follows 17-year-old Randy, a devout choir boy living in a conservative Mississippi town, as he struggles to reconcile his sexuality and faith while also caring for his mother following his sister's disappearance. The film was shown during GLAAD's Southern Stories summer tour, including a discussion following with the star Julian Walker and director Patrik-Ian Polk. Blackbird is on Netflix now.
Brother Outsider (2003)
This documentary chronicles the life of Bayard Rustin, an openly gay African American man who worked for more than 50 years as an advocate for various human rights initiatives. He most famously advised Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. Brother Outsider is available to stream with a subscription to Sundance Now, the doc took home the GLAAD Media Award in Outstanding Documentary at the 15th Annual GLAAD Media Awards.
Addressing racial issues on a college campus, out director Justin Simien's debut was met with high critical praise. Following multiple students including gay journalist student Lionel (Tyler James Williams) who struggles to fit in, Dear White People sheds light and nuance on modern conversations about race. Dear White People is available to stream on Amazon Prime. The film is currently being adapted as a full series, it will premiere on Netflix April 28.
The GLAAD Media Award-nominated film Dope follows three outcast best friends (including butch lesbian Diggy) whose lives are turned upside down when they discover a cache of drugs. Dope is streaming on Netflix now.
The Emmy Award-winning documentary The T Word, hosted by Laverne Cox, looks at the lives of seven trans youth, who range from ages 12 – 24, and explores their individual journeys to overcome challenges such as bullying and anti-transgender violence. The documentary premiered on Logo and MTV the day after Laverne and members of the cast lit the Empire State Building purple for GLAAD’s #spiritday to support LGBTQ youth. The full documentary Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word is available for free on YouTube.
A beautifully made coming-of-age story, Pariah tells the story of Alike (Adepero Oduye), a seventeen-year-old black lesbian, discovering her own sexuality. The film artfully dives into more universal issues like parental acceptance and faith, while still telling a very personal and poignant story. Pariah received rave reviews and the GLAAD Media Award in Outstanding Film - Limited Release. Pariah is available to stream now on Netflix.
Regarded as one of the most essential LGBTQ documentaries made to date, Paris is Burning explores the ball culture and drag house system of New York City in the late '80s. The doc features many black and Latinx gay and trans young people, and explores how the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality create a unique culture. Last year, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Paris is Burning is available to stream on Netflix now.
This documentary tells the story of Marsha "Pay it No Mind" Johnson, Greenwich Village artist and legendery trans activist. She worked alongside Sylvia Rivera to co-found the organization Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and the STAR House to provide resources to and advocate for disadvantaged young trans women and drag queens. Marsha was one of numerous trans advocates involved in the Stonewall riots of 1969. Despite such contribution to the historic events, many groups of the era excluded the trans community from their efforts, which left Marsha both frustrated with the state of the movement and further determined to work on behalf of her trans peers. Pay It No Mind is available for free on YouTube.
The Trans List is the latest in a series of documentaries by acclaimed photographer and director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Like his previous films, The Trans List features a sincere, straightforward style of interviewing, giving a platform for trans people to share their life stories in their own voices including Laverne Cox, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Janet Mock, Kylar Broadus and more. The Trans List, nominated at this year's GLAAD Media Awards, is available on HBO Now and HBO Go.
This is only a fraction of the media that celebrates the history of black LGBTQ representation in film and documentaries. Stories which show the full diversity of our community and visibility for all our intersecting identities are more important than ever. GLAAD recently launched the Together Campaign to stand with all marginalized communities against the powers that seek to divide us. Serving as a virtual town square for supporters to receive information on upcoming events, petition discriminatory legislation, amplify real stories of those impacted, and connect across social media, Together unites all marginalized communities; and in unity we declare to resist, persist and prevail against hateful and non-inclusive legislation, policy and rhetoric.