By Leigh Monson
2016 was a rough year for the LGBTQ+ community. Yet however bad the world gets, we at least still have the magic of cinema to hold us over, and 2016 actually turned out to be a fantastic year for queer representation in cinema. Our community may not exactly have parity with heterosexual or cisgender representation—far from it, obviously—but not only have queer films risen in prominence, but they comprise some of the best films of the year, period. And so, I present to you my picks for the best queer films of 2016!
5. Coming Out
The process of coming out is a harrowing and difficult experience for any gender or sexual minority, but few films have effectively captured the anxiety inherent in doing so. Enter Alden Peters, a young documentarian whose first feature film was the process of filming himself coming out to his friends and family as gay. There is little pomp or circumstance to Peters's revelatory conversations, but he does a great job of demonstrating just how hard it is to share a part of oneself that could possibly lead to rejection by the ones they love. If you've ever had to come out, you'll know how he feels. If you haven't come out yet, there's hope in his experiences that may give you the strength to move forward. And if you will never have to come out, you might just understand how hard it can be to share a part of yourself that you will undoubtedly face discrimination for.
4. Free CeCe!
CeCe McDonald's story may be high profile, but wha Free CeCe! highlights is just how normal CeCe's experience is. This documentary is a damning look at how police and prosecutors in Minneapolis persecuted CeCe—a Black and transgender woman—for a fatal act of self-defense, charging her with murder and housing her in solitary confinement in a men's prison. As tragic as CeCe's story is, there is also an element of hope to this exploration of her character, which demonstrates the family life that shaped her and the post-prison life where she fights to abolish the prison industrial complex. Free CeCe! is a movie that humanizes and elevates transgender voices in a way most media refuses to.
3. First Girl I Loved
Teenage love stories tend to be a bit twee at times, but First Girl I Loved is such a bold exception in how it so clearly understands the awkwardness of first love in a closeted homosexual context. As the two female leads struggle to understand their feelings for one another, a male friend character struggles with notions of consent and his own toxic masculinity, and the resulting poor communication between these three makes for a drama that is tragic as it is immediately relatable for anyone who has gone through adolescence. Yet despite its heavy themes, First Girl I Loved retains a lighthearted comic tone that keeps what could have been melodramatic in grounded reality, and what results is a cute, sincere film about the perils of young lesbian love.
2. The Handmaiden
If you take away nothing else from The Handmaiden, realize that it is a gorgeously shot film, a modern romantic epic that casually features two women falling in love and enough plot twists to justify its two-and-a-half hour runtime easily. The will they/won't they mechanics of an elaborate plot where a con artist and a pickpocket seek to steal the fortune of a frail heiress are both endearing on a romantic level and tensely mysterious in how the levels of intrigue gradually unfold themselves. This is a film to keep you guessing, and the fact that a lesbian relationship is the focal point of a film without being fetishized or demonized is icing on an already incredibly delicious cake.
I've already written about Moonlight here on Punk Out, but it bears repeating: this movie is brilliant. Never have I seen such an adept study of poverty, race, and sexuality through the lens of one character, and the ways in which protagonist Chiron must come to grips with his sexual attraction to men is only one aspect to his deeply complicated character. In a world where men of color are continually told that their masculinity is inextricably tied to their heterosexuality, seeing Black male love on film is a revelation, making this not just the best queer movie of the year, but the flat out best movie of the year, period.
What were your favorite queer films of 2016? Let us know and we'll check them out!
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