By Andrea Thompson
Happy Pride Month! Since there's still a few days left to enjoy it, here are seven films that you should make time to watch.
Dracula's Daughter (1936)
This Golden Age Hollywood film is somewhat limited by its time, but it's also got quite a bit going for it. Countess Marya Zaleska (film goddess Gloria Holden) should be more well-known as not just one of the great female villains, but just a great villain in general. She could even easily be anti-heroine, as we meet her far before our hero and his love interest, who aren't nearly as interesting. What makes Zaleska so tragic is that what she truly wants is a normal life. She believes Dracula's death has freed her, only to discover she still craves blood and death. She is a great danger to both men and women, and lesbian undertones are quite clear, given her ultimate temptation is the sight of a young woman's bare throat. So Hollywood's first reluctant vampire was a complex female character, whose was equally regal, beautiful, and terrifying.
Desert Hearts (1985)
First off, that dynamite outfit on Cay Rivvers (Patricia Charbonneau). Cay doesn't exactly arrive on-screen, she bursts onto it, laughing as she recklessly drives backward, wind in her hair. The prim and proper Vivian (Helen Shaver), who has just come to a Nevada ranch for some peace and quiet after filing for divorce, is fascinated by her, and only gets more so. Their mutual attraction practically sets the screen on fire every time they meet, and their love scene together is both tender and sensual without coming off as objectifying. The love story is also blissfully free of any love triangle, and the sweetly optimistic ending was a rarity for LGBTQ films at the time.
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
“The Watermelon Woman” isn't just a criminally underappreciated classic, it's a 90s time capsule, a time which saw a resurgence in Black cinema. Director and writer Cheryl Dunye plays a fictionalized version of herself who's also named Cheryl, a Black lesbian who works in a video store (ah, nostalgia) in Philadelphia with her best friend Tamara (Valarie Walker). Cheryl soon becomes obsessed with a Black actress who played a series of mammy type roles in the 30s. It's a meta narrative that's also socially conscious, as Dunye creates her own history in order for the fictional Cheryl to confront the lack of resources devoted to Black women on-screen, just as she's dealing with a fallout with her best friend Tamara after she starts dating a white woman. It's groundbreaking, fascinating watch on its own merits, not just because “The Watermelon Woman” is the first feature film directed by a Black lesbian.
Imagine Me & You (2005)
In many ways, “Imagine Me & You” is just another rom-com. The difference? It revolves around two women. Also, it stars Lena Headey. Yes, Queen Cersei. And she's fantastic as Luce, who shares an intense chemistry with Rachel (Piper Perabo) from the moment they lock eyes...on Rachel's wedding day to Heck (Matthew Goode, yes this movie also has Matthew Goode). Even if the poster makes it seem as though this relationship blossomed behind the back of not just one, but two men, Luce is very aware and comfortable about her preference for women. It's Rachel who is initially very sure of who she is, then begins to question her sexuality after she meets Luce. Their love story is sweet and tender as it grows in spite of Rachel's conflict over her kind and decent husband Heck, who senses the change in his wife but is unable to discern the cause. Even if the the movie keeps things light, it also delves into the prejudices and disapproval Luce still has to face simply being who she is, and Heady and Perabo have the kind of chemistry that makes rom-coms soar.
“Pariah” doesn't sugarcoat just how rocky coming-of-age can be for LGBTQ youth in an environment that wants them to be anything but. For her feature film debut, Dee Rees pulls few punches in just how much 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) must overcome despite of her status as a gifted student and writer who lives in Brooklyn, which is often depicted as a liberal haven. Alike is very certain of her lesbian identity, but her conservative parents prefer denial and conformity. Alike's mother is especially invested in her daughter conforming to a more conventional femininity, buying her pink clothes Alike clearly isn't comfortable in, and displaying open hostility towards her supportive and out friend Laura (Pernell Walker). For a time, Alike thinks she's found comfort and love with Bina (Aasha Davis), only to experience her first heartbreak as she learns just how invested Bina is in denying not only her own truth, but their shared one. Even if Alike emerges firmly committed to breaking free of the forces that constrict her, those forces still ensure her freedom has a price.
The Handmaiden (2016)
“The Handmaiden” is one of the most unusual on-screen love stories. The plot seems simple enough at first. In Japanese-occupied Korea, a Korean pickpocket named Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) is hired to serve as a handmaiden to the supposedly naive and innocent Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) in order to assist a conman in robbing Hideko of her inheritance. What seems like a straight path (pun intended) soon proves to be more of a maze, as Sook-Hee begins to develop feelings for Hideko, who is also more complicated than she appears. Unlike other films that claim to be erotic, “The Handmaiden” actually lives up to the genre, giving us a thriller that is equal parts suspenseful, stylish, and yes, sexy.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Unlike the other heroines, or even the other anti-heroine, on this list, author Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) isn't even trying to be good. It's understandable though, since other priorities like survival take precedence. In 1991 New York Lee is deeply out of step with the times. She not only a female writer, she's an older woman who's also a lesbian, and not interested in making nice with entitled, successful male authors. To make some extra cash, she decides to forge letters from deceased authors, and before long is actually able to find quite a bit of success. McCarthy manages to make Lee not only sympathetic but lovable without softening her or making excuses, taking us gleefully along for the ride as Lee cons the industry that has shut her out.