It has been close to 50 years since the Stonewall riots that happened in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, when a series of impromptu demonstrations from the gay community went up against the police. Whatever happened during the wee hours of the morning at the Stonewall Inn at the end of June in 1969, eventually went down in US history to be the stone fall that caused the avalanche that is the preceding gay liberation movement that went on until the mid-1980s – and some may argue, till this day.
We will not bore you with the nitty gritty on how things have changed for the LGBT community since the Stonewall riots. But instead, on this commemorative day (June 28 of every year), we will point you in the right direction to 10 films in the last 20 years or so, the ones which the Oscars may have missed out on, but are equally as captivating and prominent when it comes to the community’s representation in the film industry.
BOYS DON’T CRY (1999)
Some 15 years before Eddie Redmayne garnered Oscar buzz with The Danish Girl, Hilary Swank managed to get the nod of approval from the Academy Awards (at a time when LGBT films on a Hollywood scale was still sparse), and won Best Actress for her role as the real-life transgender Brandon Teena.
Born Teena Renae Brandon, the boy received much grief growing up in Nebraska as an openly identified transgender. In the dramatised film, Swank’s character have to constantly sidestep death threats and bullying, while at the same time, nurture a relationship with Lana Tisdel, (starring Chloë Sevigny, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the Academy Awards in 2000), a girl he befriended who is unopposed of his sexual orientation.
Five years before his imminent death from cancer, a man in his 50s, Hal Fields (starring Christopher Plummer), came out to his son, Oliver (starring Ewan McGregor), and decides to live the remainder of his life as an openly gay man, despite being in a rather mundane relationship with his wife since the 1950s.
Oliver is left to question the genuineness of his parents’ marriage (back then, gay men would get married to avoid being picked up by the feds for their sexuality) – and ultimately, love, just as he is about to embark on a relationship of his own with an eccentric French actress he met at a party, Anna (starring Melanie Laurent).
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (2013)
This coming-of-age LGBT film has garnered many accolades from some of the most prestigious awards in the film industry: nominations for the Golden Globe Award (Best Foreign Language Film) and the BAFTA Award (Best Film Not in the English Language), as well as a unanimous vote for the Palme d’Or win at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, the highest prized award for the festival.
The French romance drama carries obvious plays on the colour blue throughout the film’s cinematography, mainly the colour of Emma’s hair (starring Léa Seydoux), which was what caught the attention of Adèle (starring Adèle Exarchopoulos), when she first saw Emma from across the street. As Adèle struggles through her newly realised sexual orientation, she finds her first love with Emma despite a love relationship that may leave the both of them unhinged – something anyone who has ever been in a serious relationship could attest to.
A KID LIKE JAKE (2018)
While most gender-based films deal with how an LGBT’s sexuality would affect their families and friends, this modern-day flick flips the table on how the parents would deal with the situation instead, when it was them who realise such “trades” of their child.
That is what happened to Alex and Greg Wheeler (starring Claire Danes and Jim Parsons, respectively), when they are in the midst of applying for a suitable private school in New York City for their son, Jake (starring Leo James Davis). Striving at a time when sensitivity towards non-heterosexuality is prime, the parents struggle to avoid potential offences towards their peers, while at the same time, coming to grips with the fact that Jake may not be the boy they have hoped he will be.
An unlikely friendship was formed during the Thatcher administration, when funds for the National Union of Mineworkers were sequestered during the miners’ strike from 1984 to 1985. Having found a common ground in hostility from the public, police force and government, a group of gay and lesbian activists decide to extend a helping hand to the rather hesitant mineworkers in Onllwyn, a small mining village in Wales, with the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners fund (LGSM).
Starring notable British names like Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton and Ben Schnetzer, Pride provides a comical and whimsical touch to a rather dark time in the United Kingdom, and proves that despite the differences in gender preference, when it comes down to it, a friend in need is a friend indeed.
HAPPY TOGETHER (1997)
Despite his more renowned masterpieces like Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love and 2046, this 1997 romance drama by famed Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai was responsible for consolidating his name on the international map, when he bagged the Best Director award in the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, a historical first for a director from Hong Kong.
Inspired by the historical Handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China that very same year, much aware that the homosexuals in Hong Kong faces uncertainty with the sovereignty turnover, Happy Together tells the destructive relationship between a gay couple – played by Wong’s constant acting patron Tony Leung, and the late Leslie Cheung, in which one of them was more prone to promiscuity and infidelity.
It only took another 10 years following Hilary Swank’s Oscar win, for Sean Penn to nab the Best Actor award playing a gay politician, whom probably until today, remains “one of the most famous and most prominent openly gay officials ever elected in the States”.
Harvey Milk shook things up real good in the 1970s on the political front, when he took up one of the 11-seat districts for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. His career not only focused on gay liberation, but the community of San Francisco as a whole, urging the US government to be more responsive and responsible towards the individuals residing in the city – gay or straight.
Following the release of the film, Milk was awarded posthumously for his fight towards discrimination the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by Former US President Barack Obama; his nephew, Stuart Milk, received the award on Milk’s behalf. Whereas over in California, May 22 is recognised as Harvey Milk Day, signed into law by Former California Governor and fellow actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A SINGLE MAN (2009)
Not many people would have thought fashion designer Tom Ford to be quite the film director as well, until the immense success that came with his directorial debut. His fashion and artistic visions were translated from Christopher Isherwood’s namesake book to film, and expanded in the 100-minute drama film, peppered with his well-tailored suits and eyewear accessories, augmented further upon British actor Colin Firth.
The story of George Falconer, (a character which earned Firth with the Best Actor Oscar nomination), begins with the accidental death of his lover, Jim (starring Matthew Goode), and how he went about with his life after the tremendous loss – which included considering a possible relationship with his student, Kenny (starring Nicholas Hoult), and even suicide.
THE NORMAL HEART (2014)
In less knowledgeable times, AIDS was known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). when the HIV/AID crisis hit New York City in the early 1980s, the homosexual community was stigmatised, as the medical cases then were restricted to gay men; AIDS was also termed as “gay cancer” and “gay plague” back then.
Gay writer and activist Ned Weeks (starring Mark Ruffalo) and his brothers in arms of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) were determined to get to the bottom of things to prevent further spreading of the life-threatening disease among their loved ones, and the stigma piled upon the already-present discrimination against the LGBT community.
LOVE, SIMON (2018)
Over the course of 20 years, many LGBT-themed films – independent or mainstream – have hit the screens, with many coming off as rather self-righteous while others, downright unrealistic. However, without such “trials and errors”, the film industry may not have peaked (thus far) with a good coming-of-age film like this one, that is appeasing and relatable to all: light-hearted and humorous, while at the same time, honest and genuine with the weight upon the shoulders of a teenager.
Based on Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and a film adaptation claimed to be of the same ranks as the olden John Hughes flicks (Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club), Love, Simon tells the rather simplistic story of Simon Spier (starring Nick Robinson), a closeted gay high school student, who is struggling to come out to his friends and families (despite their potential openness to his sexuality), while looking for someone he can relate to, and hopefully, have “a great love story” that he deserves with.