Film Forum: Black LGBTQIA Picks

Last year, the film Moonlight (2016) made history when its director, Barry Jenkins, became the first African-American director to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. There are few films in existence that explore the complex, loaded identity of the black LGBTQIA community like Moonlight does—Isaac Julien’s seminal masterpiece Looking for Langston (1989) is one of them—but more and more, black filmmaking is being recognized for its importance in portraying a diverse and integral portrait of our country's history. With the Oscars only a month away and in celebration of Black History Month, we examine the rich history of black cinema, specifically those films, such as Moonlight, that inform an increasingly visible topic of the black LGBTQIA community.

The actor Alex R. Hibbert in a scene from Moonlight

Moonlight (2016)
Director: Barry Jenkins
The first LGBTQIA film to be awarded the Best Picture Academy Award, Moonlight is an elegantly lyrical triptych chronicling the coming of age of Chiron. From a bullied child who asks about the meaning of the word “faggot,” to a grown man who conceals his vulnerability in a hard shell, Chiron rediscovers his emotional compass and reconnects with the emotions he suppressed in adolescence.

Pariah (2011)
Director: Dee Rees
Alike, a lesbian teenager, rejects ostracism and socialization toward feminization. Searching for safe spaces in which to express herself, Alike escapes the dictates of her “proper” upbringing and her assigned gender role, and decides to live by her personal mantra: “I’m not running—I’m choosing.”

The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye (2008)
Director: Cheryl Dunye
Cheryl Dunye’s films are acts of activism. In the face of political opposition, Dunye created a genre of black lesbian films for which no history existed. This compilation of her early work precedes the groundbreaking film Watermelon Woman (1996), the first African-American lesbian feature narrative.

Brother to Brother (2004)
Director: Rodney Evans
Perry, a young artist, befriends Richard Bruce Nugent, a writer and artist of the Harlem Renaissance. Nugent is the story’s temporal link between black homosexual struggles of the 1930s and the contemporary issues of gay acceptance in the black community. Evans dramatizes Eldridge Cleaver’s backlash to James Baldwin’s work and identity, and examines the conflict in the black community over gay identity, as well as the overt view of black sexual identity as an impediment to black liberation.

Madame Sata (2002)
Director: Karim Aïnouz
In 1930s Brazil, in the district of Lapa, João Francisco dos Santos cycles in and out of prison. An illiterate descendant of slaves, dos Santos is described as a person of little intelligence, who “ . . . hates society which rejects him because of his vices . . . ” He is black, gay, poor, transvestite, and defiant. Dos Santos’s life is portrayed as a process of transformation and merging of his hypermasculine, mercurial personality with its feminine counterpart to create the electric stage persona Madame Satã.

Pariah, 2011

The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye, 2008

Brother to Brother, 2004

Madame Sata, 2002