Film is a great way to start learning more about your queer history!
Let’s be honest: We all could probably do a better job of knowing our queer history. Learning about the incredible lives, achievements, and sacrifices of the singular LGBTQ+ folks who bravely blazed trails to allow future generations to live their best queer lives.
They are our heroes, even though imperfect, who deserve to be recognized and remembered. Fortunately, you don’t have to crack open a history book to see their stories come to life; not when so many of them have been adapted into biopics. From queer supermodels and poets to musicians, designers, writers, and politicians, these LGBTQ+ icons’ stories have impacted our lives.
When you’re ready for history class the fun way, here are a handful of true queer stories to watch.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody
I Wanna Dance With Somebody reveals the life of music icon Whitney Houston from her discovery by record exec Clive Davis through her rise to become one of the most beloved singers of all time. It focuses on both her career and romantic history, including that with her partner Robyn Crawford.
Ewan McGregor stars as fashion designer Roy Halson Frowick in a mini-series by Ryan Murphy. Known to most as just Halston, he was a leader in the fashion industry in the 1970s, dressing beloved stars like Liza Minelli, Angelica Huston, and Elizabeth Taylor.
This HBO film relates the life of queer blues legend Bessie Smith who rose to fame in the 1920s. The film stars Queen Latifah as Bessie, and was written and directed by the highly accomplished lesbian director Dee Rees.
The film that truly launched Angelina Jolie’s career depicts the life of troubled queer supermodel Gia Carangi. Before her life was tragically cut short by AIDS, Carangi graced the covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan and was the face of campaigns for Dior, Versace, and Yves Saint Laurent.
Gods and Monsters
Ian McKellan and Brendan Fraser star in this Academy Award-winning biopic about horror director James Whale. Once an elite director responsible for such classics as Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and Bride of Frankenstein, the film focuses on his later years when he begins developing a true connection with his gardener.
Kill Your Darlings
Daniel Radcliffe takes on the role of gay beat poet Allen Ginsberg in this story about his life, from being a poor student at Columbia University, through his struggles with mental health and his sexuality.
Aimée & Jaguar
Aimée & Jaguar charts the unbelievable (but true) story of Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim, two star-crossed lovers who meet during the height of World War II. The two couldn’t come from more different backgrounds: Lilly is a Nazi officer’s wife and Felice is a lesbian Jew. It’s a harrowing yet beautiful story of true love that spanned a lifetime.
In this biopic, Sean Penn stars as a Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist and the very first openly gay man to be elected to public office. Penn’s performance won him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Have you ever been curious about how the legend of Wonder Woman came to be? Professor Marston and the Wonder Women puts the famous comic book character into striking perspective. Based on the real story of William Moulton Marston, the film explores the birth of Wonder Woman and her basis on the loves of his life: his wife Elizabeth and their mutual lover Olive Byrne.
Frida Kahlo was a bisexual Mexican artist who defied social norms and called into question the notion of acceptable femininity. She was revered for her zest for life, her self-portraiture, and her ability to capture the unique beauty of Mexican culture in her paintings. Is it any wonder that the lovely (and lively) Salma Hayek does a fantastic job portraying Kahlo in this 2002 film? A must-see, for sure.
The Imitation Game
With Benedict Cumberbatch leading the cast, The Imitation Game tells the story of real-life cryptanalyst Alan Turing who was instrumental in decrypting German intelligence codes for the British government during World War II. While Turing is uncovering German secrets, he’s hiding a few of his own—his homosexuality is chief among them.
Julianne Moore stars as New Jersey police lieutenant Laurel Hester who’s still closeted on the job and living with her domestic partner Stacie Andree (Elliot Page). When Laurel is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she and Stacie fight long and hard to secure her pension benefits before she dies.
Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas plays against type in Behind the Candelabra, a biopic about the life and loves of prodigious pianist Liberace. Douglas stars as Liberace with Matt Damon acting alongside him as Liberace’s lover Scott Thorson.
In an Oscar-winning performance, Rami Malek plays legendary musician and queer icon Freddie Mercury during his time as the frontman and lead singer of Queen.
The 2019 biopic, starring Taron Egerton as openly-gay singer-songwriter and music icon Elton John, tells the story of John's rise to fame and some of the setbacks he's experienced, including a stint in rehab, throughout his decades-long career. The film was notable for showcasing John's relationship with his manager John Reid (played by Richard Madden).