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OPINION: LGBTQ movies, series in honor of Pride Month

by TRACY BROWN LOS ANGELES TIMES (TNS) | June 11, 2020 at 1:46 a.m.
Stream some Pride onto your screens this month with these movies meant to entertain and educate the masses on gay culture and history. (Democrat-Gazette file photo/Ben Goff)

This year's Pride month kicked off amid nationwide uprisings over George Floyd's killing, racism and police violence. It's a reminder that the modern LGBTQ rights movement and Pride celebrations wouldn't exist without protests.

During a raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York sometime after midnight on June 28, 1969, the LGBTQ patrons and community finally rebelled against the police and the existing laws that had long denied their humanity. The mafia-owned bar was in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan and was one of the few places where LGBTQ patrons could gather despite frequent raids.

The Stonewall riots led to protest marches and a more organized LGBTQ movement.

With many Pride events canceled due to the covid-19 pandemic, Christopher Street West, the organization that produces Los Angeles Pride, announced last week that this year's celebration in LA will be a Black Lives Matter solidarity march on Sunday. The organization had initially planned to hold a slate of virtual events. (In Little Rock and other warmer locales, Pride is celebrated in October.)

Here are a few documentaries and TV shows that honor the movement's roots in protest and connect its history to current events. This list is just meant to be a starting point.

Stonewall Uprising

Available on: PBS, Kanopy

This 2010 documentary is essentially an oral history from some of those who were at the Stonewall Inn on the night of the police raid that sparked a rebellion. Through interviews with patrons, activists, journalists and even the police inspector who led the raid, the film offers some context on the social climate and attitudes toward the gay community during that time.

It then gets more specific about the events preceding and following the uprising, when people finally pushed back against the police and started a movement. Some of the language is a bit out of date, and there is a noticeable lack of diversity in the voices represented, but it's a good starting point to learn about the event.

Also worth checking out is comedian Crissle West's retelling of the story in an episode from Drunk History. This segment centers the story on Marsha P. Johnson, one of the trans women of color at the forefront of the event.

The Death and Life

of Marsha P. Johnson

Available on: Netflix

A fixture in New York's LGBTQ community, Johnson was found dead in the Hudson River in 1992 and police at the time ruled the death a suicide. Many still doubt that determination, and this documentary follows trans activist Victoria Cruz as she investigates the case. The film also touches on the violence trans women still face.

The documentary's 2017 release was met with controversy when transgender filmmaker and activist Reina Gossett accused filmmaker David France of stealing her work to create it. France denied the claim, but the broader issues raised about who is telling (and profiting) from stories about trans women of color still remain.

Gossett and Sasha Wortzel's short film about Johnson, Happy Birthday, Marsha!, is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Pay It No Mind — The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson, featuring interviews with Johnson and her friends, is also available to view online for free.

Brother Outsider

Available on: Kanopy

Brother Outsider is a 2003 documentary about Bayard Rustin, a gay activist and organizer whose involvement with the civil rights movement dates to the 1940s. Known to be one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s friends and mentors, Rustin helped organize the March on Washington where King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

For more about Rustin, also check out Bayard & Me, a documentary short featuring Rustin's partner, Walter Naegle, discussing their relationship and how they maneuvered existing systems to gain some legal protections for their relationship. Bayard & Me is available to view online for free.

Circus of Books

Available on: Netflix

Los Angeles has its own vibrant LGBTQ history, and Circus of Books was a West Hollywood institution. The independent bookstore that sold hardcore gay porn also served as a safe space for the local gay community to meet other gay people. The shop closed in 2019 after being owned by Karen and Barry Mason for 37 years. This documentary, directed by the owners' daughter, Rachel Mason, is an intimate family story about acceptance with glimpses into LA's LGBTQ history.

Kiki

Available on: Hulu

This 2017 documentary is considered the spiritual sequel to Paris Is Burning, the seminal 1990 film about the drag queens of New York's ballroom scene in the 1980s. Kiki centers on the eponymous subculture of New York's underground ball scene, and it is more explicit in its politics to show the lived realities of these black and brown gay youth. It is also frank about how the mainstream LGBTQ movement does not adequately recognize or address issues vital to queer and trans people of color.

In addition to Paris Is Burning, consider delving into the world of Pose, the FX drama series about ball culture in the '80s and '90s.

United in Anger:

A History of ACT UP

Available on: Kanopy

This documentary about the AIDS activist movement is told by people fighting on the front lines. Co-founded by activist and playwright Larry Kramer, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power was pivotal for visibility and direct political actions for the fight against the pandemic. The film captures the rage and the urgency that drove the activists in the early days of the movement as they planned and executed some of their actions to call out government neglect while just trying to survive.

Visible: Out on Television

Available on: Apple TV+

Exploring how media representation reflects and shapes societal views of the LGBTQ community, this series revisits every major milestone of queer visibility on TV. It also frames landmark moments in the broader and oftentimes problematic cultural context.

We're Here

Available on: HBO

This unscripted series follows RuPaul's Drag Race alumni Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka as they travel to small towns across the United States to put on a one-night-only drag show with members of the community. The show highlights that despite shifting attitudes and recognition of legal rights, queer people who live outside of bigger cities with more vibrant LGBTQ communities still face obstacles just because of who they are.

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