NOTE: the below piece originally ran in June of 2020. We’re rerunning here in celebration of Pride Month 2022. Special thanks to Jenn Wilson, Film Independent Senior Programmer. All streaming availability info has been updated as of June 2022.
For this week’s playlist, we’re celebrating Pride Month and Black Lives Matter by spotlighting nine of our favorite Black LGBTQ content creators. There’s plenty of stuff to dig into, so let’s go ahead and get started, shall we?
First is Laverne Cox—known for her award winning role as trans inmate Sophia in the Netflix hit Orange is the New Black—has demonstrated a passion for producing documentaries dealing with trans issues: The T Word, profiling trans youth; Free Cece, which chronicles the story of Cece McDonald, a trans woman sent to prison for killing her attacker; and Disclosure, a brand new Netflix documentary about how Hollywood portrays transgender people.
Next: Yance Ford, who directed the critically acclaimed documentary Strong Island, about the 1992 murder his brother, William Ford Jr. William was killed by a white mechanic in a dispute about the length of time it was taking to fix his car. In revisiting the incident, Ford—who is trans—examines the racism involved in his brother’s death and the subsequent trial of his murderer.
Writer/director Dee Rees’ 2011 debut Pariah was groundbreaking in its depiction of Black, butch lesbians (unfortunately, nine years later there’s little progress that’s been made in terms of representation in this area—butch lesbian characters are still few and far between in media.) Since Pariah, Rees has continued her streak of strong work, delivering the amazing Bessie, about legendary blues singer Bessie Smith, for HBO in 2015 and directing the Robert Altman Award winning Mudbound in 2017.
Pariah’s antecedent, The Watermelon Woman, written and directed by Cheryl Dunye, undoubtedly paved the way for Black butch representation in film. Dunye’s film—which took home Best Feature at the Berlin Film Festival the year of its release—is rightly categorized in the hallowed halls of the New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s.
Award-winning filmmaker Rodney Evans has made two strong LGBTQ narrative features: the Harlem Renaissance-set Brother to Brother and the stage adaptation The Happy Sad, as well as one autobiographical documentary, Vision Portraits, about vision impaired creatives.
Dream Hampton—who would later make the acclaimed Surviving R. Kelly—premiered her documentary feature Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice Mapping a Detroit Story at the LA Film Festival in 2015. Treasure tells the story of the murder of a 19-year-old transwoman in Detroit, Shelly Hilliard, and how this event inspired her family and community to seek justice.
Justin Simien’s Dear White People—which follows four Black students at an Ivy League college—not only won Best First Screenplay at the 2015 Spirit Awards, it almost single-handedly launched the careers of Tessa Thompson and Lena Waithe. Dear White People was adapted into a TV show in 2017, which will premiere its fourth season on Netflix later this year.
Thompson likewise shines, in an early career performance, in Film Independent Fellow Tina Mabry’s critically acclaimed drama Mississippi Damned, which tells the story of three Black children struggling to grow up in Mississippi while dealing with poverty, violence and abuse. Mabry participated in Film Independent’s Project Involve (2004), Directing Lab (2008), Screenwriting Lab (2010) and Fast Track programs.
Lastly, Yoruba Richen’s powerful film The New Black examines how Black communities grapple with gay rights issues in the face of homophobia from the Black church community and the Christian Right’s agenda in pursuing anti-gay legislation.
Here’s where to find each of this week’s films online…
The T Word (2014)
Free CeCe! (2016)
Strong Island (2017)
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
Brother to Brother (2004)
The Happy Sad (2013)
Vision Portraits (2019)
Dear White People (2014)
Dear White People (series)
Mississippi Damned (2009)
The New Black (2013)
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(Header: Guinevere Turner and Cheryl Dunye in The Watermelon Woman)