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Lithium 10 WLW films that aren't white period dramas

Nov. 3, 2020
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There’s been a long withstanding debate on the internet—specifically Twitter—over whether there are enough LGBT films featuring people of color. With the release of the first trailer of Francis Lee’s anticipated lesbian romance Ammonite, that coversation sparked once again. People claimed that the only WLW stories we see on screen are period films that center on white women. Many people also sparked discourse about age gaps in LGBT films, too, just like they did when Call Me By Your Name came out in 2017. While these critiques are wholly valid, it’s untrue that there are no LGBT films featuring Black and brown couples in modern times that are in the same age range. The following films each strike out at least one of these rebuttals—so let’s get into it.

  1. Annihilation (2018)

Women! Lighthouses! Funky music! While this sci-fi horror doesn’t focus on gay themes, one of the films five core characters is Anya, a Latina lesbian. The most interesting aspect of her character is her relationship with a character named Josie. They’re always framed together, whether hovering in the background or facing each other while they sleep. Anya more than once calms Josie down while she’s on the verge of a panic attack, and almost meets her demise to protect Josie from a mutated alligator. While Anya’s lesbianism isn’t a focal point of Annihilation, seeing a film this big allow its lesbian chararacter to feel so real and lived-in is fantastic. 

2. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

Adapted from the iconic novel of the same name, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a beautiful coming-of-age film. The film focuses on Cameron and the two friends she meets at conversion camp—Jane and Adam. It’s quite rare to see LGBT coming-of-age stories, but what’s more rare is ones that don’t involve some type of harassment or pain. While Cameron Post does see these characters go through trauma—it is set in a conversion camp, after all—director Desiree Akhavan makes sure the most important part of the story is the healing that comes after.

3. Monster (2003)

Aileen Wuornos is known as America’s “first female serial killer.” An emotionally traumatized sex worker, Wuornos shoots a man who assults her, and what follows is the piling of bodies and the birth of a strange icon. What the film delves into though, is Wuornos’ relationship with Selby Wall. These are two women who don’t know their place in the world, and as their love for each other grows deeper they become scarily codependent. Patty Jenkins masterfully directs this film, allowing audiences to see a different side to one of America’s most notorious killers. 

4. Black Mirror: San Junipero (2016)

It’s 1987 when Kelly and Yorkie meet at a club. They make small talk and eventually part ways. As the days go by they keep running into each other, and soon fall in love. But what we soon learn is that Kelly and Yorkie are both taking part in a strange simulation and have never actually met in real life. Oh, and it’s not 1987. Black Mirror is known for its horrific plot twists, yet they allowed this couple to live a beautiful and vibrant life and exist outside of some depressing ending. In their world they’re allowed to be happy, and as much as eternal life via simulation sounds horrific, can it really be that bad if you’re spending it with the love of your artificial life?

5. The Favourite (2018)

Disguised as a typical period drama, The Favourite is a fun look at a power struggle between two women fighting for the affections of Queen Anne. The film sees Sarah using her years-long relationship with Queen Anne to her advantage to control the monarchy. But when her distant cousin Abigail arrives, the power seems to shift, as Anne strikes up a close friendship with her. It’s a hilarious film filled with quick-witted jabs, heartbreaking declarations, and a woman on screen seriously declaring, “I like it when she puts her tongue inside me.” What else could you hope for?

6. Shakedown (2018) 

An underrated gem, Shakedown focuses on the Black lesbian strip club in LA of the same name. Documenting the club’s booming business in the ‘90s, the film was a long-time work in progress. It’s a beautiful look at Black lesbian culture in the ‘90s and early aughts. Shakedown is a documentary that deserves to be seen by more than just those who seek it out. The film is available to stream (for free!) here.

7. Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

Kiersey Clemons, Sasha Lane, Toni Collette, and Nick Offerman. Have I grabbed your attention yet? While Hearts Beat Loud focuses on the father-daughter relationship between Clemons and Offerman’s characters, another aspect of the film is the budding love between Clemons and Lane. It’s quite rare to see two Black women in love on screen, and these two have fantastic chemistry. Lane’s character even recommends Clemons’s character listen to Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl”; if that doesn’t scream gay love, I don’t know what does.

8. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Perhaps the ultimate “be gay, do crimes” film, Can You Ever Forgive Me? focuses on Lee Israel, a woman who turned away from a career in writing biographies to work in literary forgery. Israel’s lesbianism isn’t central to the film, but it’s a huge part of the pain and isolation she feels in her life. She and her friend Jack collaborate for the literary scam of the century, all while making you laugh and cry. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant deliver career-best performances, and their chemistry makes for the perfect portrayal of WLW/MLM solidarity.

9. Rafiki (2018) 

Making history as the first Kenyan film to be screened at Cannes, Rafiki tells the story of Kena and Ziki, two women trying to resist the political rivalry between their families. The film is colorful and filled with music, depicting Kenya in a way Western filmmakers usually stray from. As Kena and Ziki’s love for each other blossoms, they struggle to stay safe in their homophobic hometown. While it’s rare to see Black lesbians in American cinema, it’s even scarcer in African cinema. Rafiki makes for a beautiful, revolutionary love story.

10. The Watermelon Woman (1996)

The first feature film to depict an “out” Black lesbian, director Cheryl Dunne stars as a character of the same name, a video store clerk by day and aspiring filmmaker by night. She aspires to make a film about a Black actress from the 1930s who played infamous “mammy” roles. It’s light-hearted and witty, but it never strays from making a point about the erasure of Black women (and Black lesbians) from history. Although it was made in the ‘90s, this film still hits the nail on the head in terms of how the LGBT community forgets about its Black members and frequently casts them to the side. 

So there you have it! Ten films you may not have seen that put these claims to rest. Happy watching, and continue to broaden your cinematic horizons!