We are living in a golden age of queer cinema. Now more than ever, films about, starring, and made by queer people are taking up space in Hollywood. But sometimes the discourse surrounding queer representation in media is exhausting— especially since the media play such a powerful role in shaping how marginalized groups are perceived by society.
For much of film history, queer and trans characters have been depicted as villainous. If we overcorrect and show only queer characters who are perfect and polished, they are no longer interesting. True representation is a reflection of our flawed reality. Queer people are messy, we make mistakes, we’re problematic, and we do things we regret. Here’s a collection of films that feature dynamic queer characters who are anything but squeaky-clean.
Bound (1996) directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski
Step aside, Ocean’s 8—the Wachowski sisters beat you to the punch by more than 20 years with this decadent lesbian heist flick. Bound is a masterful debut that’s both a thrilling crime film and a sensual tale of queer desire. Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and Corky (Gina Gershon) manipulate everyone around them in order to get what they want—and Bound flips the script on tired stereotypes in femme-butch relationships. It’s a film that champions the submissive, feminine underdog and introduces a queer femme fatale.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) directed by Anthony Minghella
When I die, scatter my ashes over Anthony Minghella’s idyllic, homoerotic interpretation of Italy. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley is fueled by lust, obsession, and fantasy. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) wants to be with Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), but he also wants to be Dickie because Dickie is everything Tom is not: wealthy, carefree, and straight-passing. It’s about the toxicity of adoration, the struggle for power in queer relationships, and the ways marginalization can alter both one’s sense of reality and one’s relationship to one’s queer identity.
Bad Education (2004) directed by Pedro Almodóvar
It’s hard to talk about Bad Education without spoiling it—but the film is more rewarding the less you know going into it. After decades of estrangement, first loves Ignacio (a captivating Gael García Bernal) and Enrique (Fele Martínez) reconnect and make a film about the abuse Ignacio experienced in the Catholic Church. But some things just aren’t adding up and not everyone is who they say they are. This film is a technical marvel in nearly every aspect—and its nonnarrative style will keep you guessing until the very end.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) directed by Marielle Heller
A recent addition to the “Be Gay, Do Crime!” canon, Can You Ever Forgive Me? was one of the most overlooked films of last year. Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a broke and lonely lesbian writer who takes better care of her cat than she does of herself. In a desperate attempt for cash, Israel forges letters from famous authors—later with the help of an equally disastrous gay friend (Richard E. Grant). On the surface the film is about petty crime, but underneath is a gut-wrenching portrayal of self-induced isolation. v