In the queer community, there are certain expectations we have for ourselves and one another. Lesbians watching other lesbians on TV or the big screen? Definitely lands pretty close to the top of the list. Since (realistic) representation is still a pretty new thing for us, we end up settling for whatever we can find – and Hollywood knows this.
They know that they can feed us terrible excuses for lesbian love, and we’re going to eat it up anyway. Queer-baiting seems to be happening more and more, and despite knowing that the stereotypes we see are Hollywood’s stereotypes – not our own – we watch anyway. We signal boost these horrible shows and movies on social media, often with a disclaimer that we’ve been “hate-watching” them (but not always).
Interested in watching a lesbian movie that doesn’t suck? We’ve got you covered!
All Over Me (1994, English)
Let me preface this movie’s introduction by saying… I love Leisha Hailey. I have ever since The L Word. But if you want to see a glimpse of her before she got huge, All Over Me shows her in fun, cute, punk style – which resonates pretty strong with me because I was, in fact, a little bit pop-punk as a teenager. (I’m talking Crayola-colored hair and a doorknocker hanging from my nostril, with those pants that had a million chains hanging from them that most of us are ashamed to admit we used to have…)
This movie wasn’t billed as a lesbian love story, although there are a number of queer or questioning characters. It was marketed as a story of friendship, and this is something I’d actually like to see more of – why does every lesbian film have to be a romantic drama? Why can’t we have more lesbian movies that don’t require sex to get your attention?! OK… Rant over.
Even if you aren’t into the whole idea, the fact that one of the main characters happens to fall in love with her straight BFF is something that rings true for most of us – that one girl you can’t really get over, despite knowing that it was never really going to happen. Hey – maybe sometimes it does.
Bound (1996, English)
If you’re looking for a film with lesbians in it that’s not a “lesbian film”, Bound is probably exactly what you’ve been looking for. Officially, this is a suspense film, with one of the writer-slash-producers being a trans lesbian – we love to see diversity in our movies, and it’s wonderful that this film does that for us.
Bound centers around a lesbian ex-con and her secret lover – played by the beautiful Jennifer Tilly – as they make their way through things. One of our favorite things about this movie, however, is that the gay characters don’t feel forced, nor is their gay-ness the center of attention. (Although, there are some pretty steamy love scenes, which we definitely appreciate – since they’re done tastefully).
While the writer-slash-producers didn’t want the homosexuality to be the main focus of the film, it was important for them that the character be a lesbian, and a realistic one. When the studios told them to change Gina Gershon’s character to a man, they declined – “that movie’s been made a million times”. More than just that, they hired a feminist sex educator to make sure that the love scenes were actually realistic – making this movie a huge accomplishment for the queer community at large.
Fucking Amal/Show Me Love (1998, Swedish)
This movie is inarguably one of the greatest examples of lesbian movies that don’t suck – it actually beat Titanic’s opening sales when it was released. This is a giant accomplishment, as there are not many queer-themed movies that receive the attention they deserve.
This movie centers around the realistic interpretation of high-school confusion. The leading characters come from different backgrounds, which we do see a lot of, but in this representation, the realism is very real. On the one hand, we have Ellin, who faces a great deal of homophobia from her friends. On the other hand, we have Agnes, whose mother says that a lesbian is “a perfectly normal woman who just happens to fall in love with another woman”.
It is nice to see a movie that shows both sides of the picture – so many movies center either on acceptance or discrimination, but not both. Of course, you will have to deal with subtitles if you don’t speak Swedish, but that’s ok – this movie is well worth it.
Gia (1998, English)
Another based-on-a-true-story movie about a queer character, played by someone who catapulted into the hearts (and sexual fantasies) of almost every lesbian ever, Gia tells the tale of “America’s first supermodel”. Gia Carangi was a fashion model who happened to be a lesbian, struggling with a drug addiction that led to her eventual death from AIDS. It’s not too often that we hear of female AIDS victims (although they do exist!), so the attention was much appreciated.
One of the things that sets this movie apart is that it’s actually done in “mockumentary” style – but without the satire the label usually implies. Sprinkled with real-life journal pages (from the real Gia) and interviews from her closest confidants, as well as passionate sex scenes starring Angelina Jolie.
If you haven’t yet seen Gia, you should try to find it and watch it as soon as possible – but don’t be surprised when you cry. Hey, there’s no shame in that!
High Art (1998, English)
This is one that hits a little close to home for me – drug use is a very real problem, especially in the queer community. (I also happened to be an assistant at a photography company, which – while not exactly the same as the job held by the leading lady – is pretty close.) I have yet to actually watch this one, but the trailer is breathtaking and makes me want to watch it like right now. (Maybe I’ll grab it on payday.)
This movie focuses on the power of ambition – what would you do to get ahead? There’s this stereotype that drug users don’t have ambition, and this movie helps to prove that that’s not necessarily the case – sometimes, an addiction is just an addiction, and while it might alter your motivations, it probably won’t completely get rid of your drive. It all comes at a cost, though, and for those who have yet to experience the gripping power of a drug addiction, hopefully this movie will help you see that drugs are never the right answer. They don’t solve your problems; they just distract you from them for a while.
Biggest takeaway from this movie’s description: Drugs are bad, lesbians are good, and ambition is everything. Which sounds an awful lot like my life story, too… Hmm. Coincidence?
But I’m a Cheerleader! (1999, English)
This movie was the very first lesbian film that I ever watched – and it has owned a special place in my heart ever since. This movie follows Graham and Megan (played by Clea DuVall and Natasha Lyonne, respectively) as they navigate the waters of a conversion therapy camp – something that is unfortunately still a real thing.
For those of us who never faced this type of disapproval from our families, this movie might not seem the most realistic, as it deals with obvious camp and over-eccentric straightwashing of the gay community. However, for those who live with societally-enforced gender norms and exclusion from their families based purely on their sexuality, this movie resonates even stronger – sometimes, the easiest way to deal with a difficult situation is to poke fun at it.
More than just the great storyline (and totally believable love story – yay!), we’ve got fun colors (girly pink and boyish blue – of course) that paint a picture reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands and Barbie. However, the movie received an NC-17 rating originally – due to its portrayal of homosexual activities – which was financially damaging and took it right out of the hands that needed it the most: The teens who are actually living in the world that the movie portrays. It was later edited and re-released with an R rating, but it’s still not fair that the MPAA chooses to rate gay sex as more offensive than straight sex. (Us gays don’t exactly agree.)
Boys Don’t Cry (1999, English)
This movie was a huge pinnacle in the trans community, as one of the first representations that wasn’t outright offensive, and it even has a familiar face playing the lead. Of course, it received a bit of backlash because there’s a non-trans-actor playing a trans role, but Hillary Swank did a great job at presenting the character as he really was. Often mistakenly labeled as a “lesbian movie”, this is no such thing – like a few other “lesbian movies”, the character is only presumed to be a lesbian. The truth is, trans characters are not necessarily gay characters, even though they do share some similar challenges.
This movie is based on a true story, which always makes it a bit more relatable – Brandon Teena was a real person, a transman in a conservative Nebraska town who was raped and killed after some jerks found out that he was born anatomically female. This movie (and the events that inspired it) took place before trans issues reached the mainstream airwaves, but it helped pave the way for the events that would come.
It’s very artfully done, and even if you don’t think you care about trans issues, this movie will prove to you otherwise. It’s going to rip at your heartstrings and expose you to issues that either you thought you faced alone, or that you never knew existed.
If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000, English)
Here is another one I haven’t seen yet, but it surrounds a magical house that turns all of its inhabitants into lesbians. (No, not really – but there are three sets of lesbians who happen to live in the same house.) Just like the original If These Walls Could Talk, the stories are connected by the house itself, although it spans three separate eras.
According to the description I found, this movie covers pretty much every important issue facing the lesbian community – the dynamics of butch-femme relationships, pregnancy in the lesbian community, hospital visitation rights, and (of course) sex. And it stars Ellen Degeneres (our collective lesbian mama) as well as some other pretty big names. Basically, it’s an in-depth look at the lesbian community, with an actual lesbian writer (Anne Heche, who we all know was dating Ellen at the time).
This movie probably isn’t perfect (although I don’t know for sure, since I haven’t seen it) but it does offer insight to those who think they might be alone – and sometimes, that’s all we need.
D.E.B.S. (2004, English)
Okay, I was turned onto D.E.B.S. when I was in high school, by this woman I was dating at the time – she was absolutely in love with Jordana Brewster and I really can’t say that I blame her. We ended up breaking up after she told me about it, but before I’d actually watched it, so I had this totally unfair reason to reject the movie entirely and didn’t actually watch it until like 5 years later. (What can I say? I hold grudges sometimes.)
For those who don’t have some unfair grudge against this movie, you’ll be delighted to know that it’s full of campy fun and freaking spies – it’s not often you see lesbian spies, but I want to see them more because… Well, spies are sexy, and lesbians are sexy, so lesbian spies are twice as sexy, obviously.
For a low-budget lesbian film, this movie actually blew me away. All too often lesbian movies are forced into independent production because the mainstream media just isn’t ready for it yet – but thankfully we’re getting there these days. It is a bit cheesy, but that’s part of its charm.
Saving Face (2005, English/Mandarin)
Saving Face offers up a not-often-seen look into the world of lesbian characters that don’t just scream “super gay” – dealing with more than just “lesbian issues”, while still presenting a fair view of the struggles involved with the lesbian community. It’s also a benchmark for Asian-American lesbians – the first movie of its kind about the particular subculture of the invisible lesbian community.
While I could never pretend to understand the specific challenges that face someone from a different cultural background, this movie is sure to receive praise from those who do see themselves reflected in the main characters. Sweet, shy Wil is a doctor who works her butt off to prove that she deserves to be promoted to head of surgery. Then, she falls in love with the daughter of the man who’s currently holding the position: The gorgeous dancer, Vivian. Oh, and did I mention that Wil’s mother ends up moving in with her? Talk about awkward!
Saving Face is one of those rarities that presents an awkward situation without making it excessively awkward, and for that it receives all our praise. If you haven’t had the chance to check this one out, definitely do – you won’t regret it!
Of course, there are more lesbian movies that are sure to blow your mind, but these ten should hold you over for now. Do you have any more movies you think we should check out? Leave them in the comments!