Giving A Voice: Movies with LGBT/POC/Female Strength

It’s no question the mainstream media fails to acknowledge and tell the stories of marginalized or lesser-heard voices to the proper extent. I’ll always be devotedly in love with film, yet I don’t often enjoy going out to movie theaters-- at least not the popular ones. For anyone who isn’t male, cis-hetero, or white, it can be tiring and frustrating not seeing nearly enough films that involve people like them who have had similar experiences and struggles. So on that note, here are some of my favorite movies featuring female, queer, and/or POC leads that had a notable emotional and intellectual impact on me.

Pariah (2011), directed by Dee Rees
Within the first 5-10 minutes of Pariah, I was already on the verge of tears. The theme and characters were immediately established in such a genuine, honest way that it was impossible to not relate. The films follows a shy, poetic African-American high school teenager named Alike as she comes to terms with her sexuality. Through various trips to gay clubs, bonding with her best friend Laura (an out, butch lesbian), and an unexpected romance between her and a girl from church, she develops her identity as a lesbian. Alike comes from the a religious household in the city and is constantly adjusting her appearance to her dissatisfaction in order to appease her mother. On that note, it may not be a matter of Alike accepting her identity, but her family and the world surrounding her accepting it. One of my favorite aspects of this coming-of-age film was its realness, the acting, the storyline, and every moment within it. It’s not common to see films with that much accuracy and a heartfelt representation of growing up.

Tangerine (2015), directed by Sean S. Baker
Tangerine is a strangely and brilliantly raw comedy filmed exclusively with iPhones. It shows the chaotic escapades of two black transgender women/sex workers after one unintentionally reveals to the other that her boyfriend (a suggested pimp) is cheating on her. She storms the city searching for and seeking revenge on her boyfriend and the suspected girl he’s been seeing. The film is filled with comically energetic cinematography, unusual and honest characters, and a cutting, questionable sense of humor. As it nears the end and the tension increases, the two friends, the pimp boyfriend, and the “other” girl (and some other notable guests) come face to face in a donut store. After their showdown is over, the warm comedic atmosphere suddenly shifts to something lonely and bitter, but equally honest. The whole film seemed to pass so quickly for me, but every second was enjoyable.

Daisies (1966), directed by Věra Chytilová
Daisies is an audacious gem of the Czech new wave film movement. It’s about two women embarking on a series of spontaneous adventures in which they prank men and initiate outlandish, childlike ruckus. This unexpected feminist film was banned by the Czechoslovakian government shortly after being released. The duo’s absurd, playful take on life comes across as bold political liberation from the communist government, as well as a brave independence from men. The plot may appear unclear and has more of a nonlinear approach; it sort of acts as a buzzing surreal dream of mischievous celebration, with lots of food fights along the way. All of the sets are striking, and the colors are constantly fading in and out in bright, psychedelic ways. It’s perfectly fitting with the lively tone of the film and the uninhibited characters.

The Watermelon Woman (1996), directed by & starring Cheryl Dunye
To summarize The Watermelon Woman, a black lesbian named Cheryl working at a video store takes interest in films from the 1930’s and 40’s, specifically one set on a Southern plantation. After becoming especially intrigued by the actress featured in it (referred to as “The Watermelon Woman” in the credits), she decides to engage in a research project to find out more about the mysterious, unknown actress. As Cheryl gains new resources and learns more, she discovers that “The Watermelon Woman,” whose real name was Fae Richards, was actually a lesbian as well and was once involved in a relationship with a white woman. To parallel with this, Cheryl develops an attraction for a white customer she meets at her video store. The overall story and characters are always warm and witty, the details of the fictional Fae Richards especially intriguing. Half of the film reveals the research footage and interviews as it unravels into a captivating story that examines race, sexuality, and the role/identity of the black lesbian up to modern time.  

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975), directed by Chantal Akerman
This unusual experimental/arthouse film was created almost entirely with a female crew. It outlines the repetitive routine of a widowed mother over the course of three days, showing her continual actions of cleaning, cooking, shopping, daily prostitution, and drab conversations with her son. All of these are shown in a long, uncropped and seemingly robotic fashion, but for very good and intentional reasons. The dull slowness of the film may certainly make it boring or hard to watch; but if you’re patient, you’ll realize that’s exactly the goal and begin to notice a subtly disturbing undertone, which makes it compelling enough to finish. For the majority of the film, the chores are done with casual content until a few slight disruptions to her routine (concerning potatoes, a radio, and a spoon, among other things) gradually set her off and lead to a shocking ending. Jeanne Dielman is widely acknowledged as a feminist masterpiece that has and continues to be debated and analyzed by many. It may be visually simple and mundane in plot, but encrypted in it is an intense sophistication and fascinating study of the repressed woman.

text: lexi malavet
visuals: pariah, tangerine, the watermelon woman, daisies, jeanne dielman

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