June is Pride Month! Celebrate with The Monolith!
For US-based fellow bunches of sticks (with yours truly being the biggest), June is a very special month: June is the month that marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (1969), which many agree started the modern gay rights movement in the United States, as well as granted visibility to queer people everywhere who were so busy hiding that no one ever bothered to look for them.
Both Presidents Clinton and Obama have named June Pride Month and cities around the world celebrate the occasion with parades, parties, and fun. Like February is Black History Month, and March Women’s, June’s marking as Pride Month is both relevant and increasingly important, particularly with the upcoming Supreme Court decisions involving DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. June is like our New Year; a chance for new beginnings, relationships, and goals. In celebration of this, I decided to devote this week’s column to some of my favorite films that capture the spirit of Pride Month. Some are funny. Some are sad. Some are based on true stories. Some are completely fictional. All offer us new perspectives.
1. Before Stonewall (1984)/After Stonewall (1999)
Two of the best documentaries that highlight the experience of being an lgbtq individual in America are Before Stonewall and After Stonewall. Some will think that they are a bit out of date, which is probably true, but I think that they both offer us extremely valuable interviews, perspectives, and stories from a time that many of us cannot even fathom. I am particularly fond of Before Stonewall because it does an excellent job of sketching out a political, social, and economic climate very different than our own without sounding preachy or boring. I assign both to my students regularly and they are often surprised at how drastically the world has changed since 1969. It’s always good to remember where a social movement started and how its momentum is felt today, Before and After do just that, and they do it well.
2. The Birdcage (1996)
Legendary director Mike Nichols brings us this joyous adaptation of La Cage Aux Folles starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, and Dianne Wiest. The story goes like this: Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl fall in love and decide to marry. However, Boy’s family is made up of two dads who own an upscale South Beach drag club and Girl’s dad is a conservative senator from Ohio who believes in prayer in school, “family” values, and a traditional vision of America that does not include any type of alternative family structure. The families meet for an introductory dinner and hilarity ensues. Nichols affectionately directs Williams and Lane as the affectionate, yet adorably middle age gay couple suffering from the same anxieties as their straight counterparts, and Team Hackman-Wiest conquers their less flamboyant roles perfectly. In the end, love and family trump politics, but don’t worry, there are still some fierce drag queens along the way.
3. The Boys in the Band (1970)
One of the first major Hollywood movies to feature a script that focused solely on gay characters, William Friedkin’s (yes, the same guy who brought us The Exorcist) The Boys in the Band remains a landmark of queer cinema today. The film, which is based on a play by the same name, highlights the anxieties, joys, and complications surrounding the first few years of a post-Stonewall America, namely “outing” (revealing someone’s queerness to others without his or her permission). Yes, the film relies on stereotypes and the narrative isn’t the happiest, but it’s an important one to tell. Gay life isn’t all about rainbows and glitter; it’s actually pretty hard, and this film show us that struggle in ways no other before it could. There is also a good documentary about the making of the movie and the play too, Making the Boys (2011), watch both!
4. Mommie Dearest (1981)
Wire hanger sales went down forever (I actually don’t know this for sure, but we can hope) after the premiere of this deliciously campy and questionably autobiographical film that details the rise and fall of Hollywood’s queen bitch Joan Crawford. Faye Dunaway allegedly played the title role with a straight face and was horrified at the film’s reception and eventual legacy as gay cult classic. If I were going to assign my students one film that captured the essence of camp and gay culture’s investment in it, I would assign this film.
5. To Wong Foo…(1995)
Three drag queens (with three very different ideas about femininity) decide to road trip to LA from NYC for a pageant and all is fine until they face some car trouble that forces them to stop for a few days in small town America while their car is repaired. The ladies befriend the women of the town and bring some fabulous to the boring community. One of my good friends calls this a “feel good drag narrative,” as a jab at its wholesome message of inclusion, but I don’t care; it’s hilarious and a lot of fun.
6. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Hilary Swank won her first Best Actress Oscar for her heartbreaking portrayal of trans* teen Brandon Teena who was killed in a Nebraska hate crime during the mid 90s. The film is hard to watch, brilliant, and deep. If you need multiple viewings then definitely take the time you need because you’ll want to absorb what you’re watching. I can’t recommend it or, the documentary it was based on, The Brandon Teena Story (1998), enough.
7. Queer As Folk (US) (2000)
Showtime shattered some serious rainbow ceilings with their production of Queer As Folk in the early 2000s. The show, which was based on a tremendously successful British show of the same name, was one of the first in the US to have explicit sex scenes between men and conquer some serious social issues (like HIV/AIDs) along the way. Surprisingly, the show also garnered a strong following of straight dudes in addition to gay men and women. I actually prefer this show over Showtime’s other fictional drama about gay life, The L Word, because it’s far more realistic in that most of the characters work normal jobs (accountant, store assistant manager, lawyer, etc.), live in a smaller city (Pittsburgh), and all do not look like supermodels. The show was also not afraid to depict homophobia, HIV/AIDs, gay marriage, adoption, and “everyday” people doing club drugs. It’s harder to find for free than the other stuff I’ve listed here, but some creative google searching will get you to some trusty streaming sites that may be able to help you out.
8. If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000)
Three vignettes set in the same house show us what lesbian identity, love, and life could be like in three different decades (60s, 70s, 2000s). My favorite storyline is the middle one that shows how feminists and lesbians in the 70s often were at odds. Plus, it’s got one of the best portrayals of female masculinity ever (Chloe Sevigny as greaser Amy). A lot of women in my age range swear by this film and its role in helping them understand their desires and identities just a bit better.
9. Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement (2009)
I dare anyone gay or straight to watch this beautiful documentary and not cry at least once. It’s the story we hear about our grandparents and wonder how it can actually be true: they met, fell in love, stayed together for life. In fact, I’m tearing up while typing this because I just had to watch the trailer to write this little blurb on the film. And fun fact: Edie is one of the reasons DOMA is up at the Supreme Court right now because when Thea died the government slapped her with over 300k of taxes; taxes that married straight widows/widowers do not have to pay. The story is amazing and despite illness, age, and a million other factors, these older ladies still have unbelievable chemistry!
10. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Possibly the most fun most ever made. The legendary cult classic still lives on in its debaucherous glory. Audiences still host midnight screenings full of costumes, singing, and dancing to this day. The film’s underlying message is powerful too: let’s liberate our true selves and tell anyone who doesn’t like it to fuck off. Perfect for pride. Duh.
Are any of you participating in any pride events this month? Which ones? Who’s seen any of the films on this list? What do you think?
Happy Pride Month from Fraud or Freud!