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  • Oliver Whitney

The 5 Best LGBTQ Movies To Watch This Black History Month

Black LGBTQ Pioneers

(Courtesy of Netflix)

This Black History Month, you might be looking for both educational and entertaining movies to watch. In between reading about historical LGBTQ+ Black figures, why not spend some time watching films about Black queer and trans lives?

We’ve curated a guide of the best movies you can stream right now that showcase the work of LGBTQ Black creatives, honor the lives of legendary figures of the past, and highlight lesser-known stories about Black trans and queer identity. From Oscar-winning dramas to indie documentaries and more, each film below is a must-watch any time of the year, but especially this Black History Month.

1. Moonlight (2016)

(Streaming on HBO Max and Kanopy; Available for Rent on Amazon Prime)

Moonlight Movie

(Courtesy of A24)

Barry Jenkins’ stunning Oscar Best Picture winner — yes, that iconic Best Picture winner that triumphed over the very white, very straight La La Land — is a rare gem when it comes to films about queer Black masculinity. Set over the course of three chapters in a young man’s life, the 2016 film tells the story of Chiron, a queer Black man coming of age in Miami. First we meet him as a 10-year-old going by the nickname “Little” (Alex Hibbert) as he hides from bullies in an abandoned drug house, rescued by a tender dealer named Juan (Mahersala Ali). Then as a scraggly teen Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) begins to explore feelings for another boy for the first time with his best friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Finally, we meet Chiron as a grown man in the muscular figure of Black (played by Trevante Rhodes) when he is reunited with someone from his past. A tender tale that’s as visually stylish as it is beautifully written — penned by Black queer playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney — Moonlight is a special movie that stays with you.

2. Paris Is Burning (1990)

(Streaming on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel; Available to Rent on iTunes)

Paris is Burning

(Courtesy of Off-White Productions)

By far one of the most significant documentaries in the history of Black queer and trans cinema, Paris Is Burning is a document of the booming New York City ballroom scene in the 1980s. Jennie Livingston’s doc is an archival treasure trove of the many iconic figures and houses of the drag ball scene that laid the foundation for everything from Ru Paul’s Drag Race to Pose. Through intimate interviews, and even some hilarious ones, with ballroom royalty like Dorian Corey, Pepper LaBeija, Willi Ninja, and Octavia St. Laurent Paris Is Burning details the ins and outs of ball culture while showing incredible footage of each of them walking and voguing. It also serves as a ballroom 101 for any unacquainted viewers, explaining things like reading, shade, and the significance of houses for young Black and brown queers and trans folks seeking community. But be warned, Paris Is Burning is not without its issues — over the years white filmmaker Jennie Livingston has been accused of exploiting her Black LGBTQ subjects and failing to compensate them for their work in the film.

3. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

(Streaming on Netflix)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

(Courtesy of Netflix)

In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Viola Davis gives a ferocious-as-ever performance (when doesn’t she?) as the titular legendary blues singer. Dubbed the “Mother of the Blues,” the real Ma Rainey was also believed to be bisexual, and this Oscar-nominated film doesn’t shy away from that depiction. Set over the course of one hectic day at a Chicago recording studio in 1927, the movie follows Davis’ Ma as she attempts to record with her band, with her lover Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) in tow. Technically Dussie Mae isn’t based on a real character, but is moreso a fictional representation of Ma’s queerness and the female lovers she was known to have. Their relationship also plays a pivotal role in the film’s plot with Ma’s trumpet player Levee (played by Chadwick Boseman in his incredibly powerful and final role). Director George C. Wolfe’s film isn't just a fascinating historical portrait of a Black queer woman at the top of her industry at a time when being gay was illegal but also a searing examination of white supremacy and Black rage in America.

4. The Aggressives (2005)

(Streaming on Kanopy, Tubi, VUDU; Available to rent on Amazon Prime)

The Aggressives Movie

(Courtesy of Daniel Peddle)

In the movies you’ll find few, if any, depictions of Black butches and Black transmasculinity. That makes Daniel Peddle’s 2005 documentary all the more necessary. We meet five subjects living across New York City who all live vastly different lives, but each of them identify as “Aggressives,” or “AG” as they call themselves. That’s the term that encompasses a whole swath of gender identities and expressions. One person describes themself as having a  “femme aggressive attitude,” another is a fashion model who channels her aggressiveness into her androgynous look, while another binds his chest and identifies as a trans lesbian — that latter person is notably Marquise Vilson, who’s a well-known transmasculine actor today. Another person is a ballroom champ who’s walked in butch and masc categories. Most beautiful of all, each person in The Aggressives is an example of the multifaceted ways masculine-of-center folks have, and continue to transcend the gender binary. Last year, Peddle made a sequel to his documentary catching up with four of his subjects 25 years later. It’s yet to be released, but now is as good a time as any to watch the original film before the follow-up arrives on Showtime.

5. Kokomo City (2023)

(Streaming on Paramount+, Showtime, Fubo; Available To Rent on Amazon Prime)

Kokomo City Movie

(Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures/Paramount+/Showtime)

In Kokomo City, finally, Black trans women who do sex work get to tell their own stories. Instead of the gruesome and heinously offensive ways that Hollywood has historically portrayed trans sex workers on screen — and it’s a long history — filmmaker D. Smith simply lets her roving camera roll on five Black trans women as they share their stories. Shot in black-and-white by Smith (a Black trans filmmaker), the film follows Daniella Carter, Dominique Silver, Koko Da Doll, and Liyah Mitchell as they each open up about their pasts, how and why they got into sex work, and detail the absolutely wild and terrifing encounters they’ve had. Intercut with animations and reenactments, we also meet various straight and queer Black men who talk about their perspectives on transphobia and anti-trans violence in the Black community. Kokomo City is a gift for the way it simply lets Black trans women just talk and speak so honestly about the realities and the incredible dangers sex workers face. But the film also has a dark cloud hanging over it. Just months after its premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Koko Da Doll was murdered in Atlanta. While it’s painful to watch her speak about her hopes of getting out of sex work in Smith’s documentary, Kokomo City can hopefully continue to be a searing reminder about the urgent need to protect Black trans women and decriminalize sex work in every way possible.

Was your favorite movie listed? Share yours in the comments below!

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