The LGBTQ+ community has been represented in film since its beginnings over 100 years ago. However, portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community have not always been flattering due to equal parts historical censorship and systemic bias. The introduction of the Hays Code (1934-1968) prohibited film studios from producing LGBTQ+ friendly content, as according to the code it was not permitted to depict “evil” or “immoral” subjects such as homosexuality (among others). Moreover, not all queer-coded characters could even be portrayed positively, but instead had to be presented as deviants, degenerates, and villains to give the movies the green light.
After the Stonewall Riots in 1969 – which were instrumental in societal change – queer films began to make their way into the mainstream in the 1970s, with the gay community seen as a viable target market. Throughout the 1980s, queer representation remained low, primarily due to the AIDS epidemic and the ill-informed societal panic surrounding it. In the 90s, however, several independent filmmakers began to properly portray the queer community with engaging and empathetic stories, eventually becoming known as the New Queer Cinema movement.
From then on, the company continued to move upwards, with Hollywood heavyweights even taking on queer film roles. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement yet. In 2017 Moonlight made history as the first LGBTQ+ film to win a Best Picture Oscar. With all that in mind, here are the best LGBTQ+ movies of the 2000s, chosen for their impact on queer cinema.
6 Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain is an adaptation by Ang Lee, based on the original short story by Annie Proulx. It follows the story of Ennis del Mar (the late Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cowboy and ranch hand who secretly fall in love while working together in the summer of 1963. The two men are both engaged in heterosexual relationships. relationships, which causes a lot of internal conflict, especially coupled with the social climate of the time. Brokeback Mountain was nominated for several awards for its heartbreaking and powerful story. He is considered a major milestone in gay cinema, despite his straight male roles. It is also considered the first major mainstream LGBTQ+ film. Gyllenhaal and Ledger also offer outstanding performances.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk tells the true story of Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected official, and his battle for gay rights. The film follows Milk as he helped shape a community for LGBTQ people in San Francisco in the ’70s, when homophobia was still rampant. The neighborhood where much of the film takes place is now a large gay community in San Francisco called the Castro. Milk also covers the assassination death of Harvey in 1978. Sean Penn won several awards for his brilliant performance in this critically acclaimed film.
4 A single man
Fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut is an incredibly stylish and moving film based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same name. A single man tells the story of George Falconer (Colin Firth), a British university professor living in Los Angeles who becomes severely depressed after the death of his longtime partner in a car accident. The film is set almost a year after the accident and is shot in flashback scenes as George contemplates suicide as a way to end his grief and pain. Firth, despite not having many scenes, uses his screen time wisely and elevates this otherwise sad tale, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
3 Hedwig and The Angry Inch
Hedwig and The Angry Inch is John Cameron Mitchell’s adaptation of his off-Broadway musical. It follows the story of the titular character Hedwig (Mitchell), an aspiring rock star who flees East Germany to America after a failed gender affirmation surgery. Hedwig tells her life story through song, as she follows ex-boyfriend (and rock star) Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), who stole her songs and her heart. The incredible original score steals the show in this fun, campy, cult classic that’s also director, screenwriter and star John Cameron Mitchell’s directorial debut.
Directed by the late Jean-Marc Vallée, this powerful coming-of-age story is about a French-Canadian boy named Zachary (Marc-Andrée Grondin) as he struggles with his burgeoning homosexuality and homophobia in the 1960s. 60s and 70s. His father Gervais (Michael Cote) is a conservative Catholic and begins to reject and demoralize Zachary as he witnesses his journey of self-discovery. After seeing Zachary and a classmate in a car together, Gervais sends Zachary to therapy in an attempt to “cure” his homosexuality. The film was a critically acclaimed box office hit and boasts a stellar soundtrack.
1 Save face
Directed by Alice Wu, Save face tells the story of Wilhelmina, a Chinese-American surgeon and closeted lesbian who falls in love with a woman and must hide it from her conservative mother (Joan Chen). The script is loosely based on Wu’s personal experience of dating his traditional Chinese mother. Not only does it tell an LGBTQ+ love story, but it also features an all-Asian American cast — something Indie Wire says almost didn’t happen. Save face is a funny, heartfelt and entertaining romantic comedy for the LGBTQ+ community and the straight community. Alice Wu Also Directs Netflix’s Queer Teen Romantic Comedy half of it.
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