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By Jessica Duncanson

Studying a range of members from the LGBT community and looking at various key points in time, these documentaries all portray the LGBT liberation movement in different stages. From the US to Uganda, the perspectives in these films are essential to those wishing to better understand this powerful battle. Some of the works look at distressing stories of homophobia while others portray bold activism, in each case these films work to enhance LGBT freedom and empowerment.


1. Before Stonewall (1984, dir. Greta Schiller)

This documentary looks at the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding homosexuality which preceded the 1969 US Stonewall riots. Using historical footage and interviews, the film studies public homophobic sentiment in the US from the 1920s and the LGBT activism against it, all of which came to a head during the iconic Stonewall liberation movement.

2. Out in the Night (2014, dir. Blair Doroshwalther)

A study of racial and sexual bias in the media, Out In The Night looks at the case of “˜The New Jersey Four’. Four black lesbian women were handed long prison sentences after attacking a man that had been verbally and physically abusing them in New York. What followed was prejudicial treatment by the media. The tabloids branded them “˜killer lesbians’ and engaged in racial bias by suggesting that they belonged to a gang.


3. The Celluloid Closet (1995, dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)

This film studies Hollywood stereotypes surrounding LGBT film characters and LGBT people involved in the film industry. As an industry that has played a major role in shaping audience’s perceptions towards the LGBT community, this documentary provides an incredibly significant look into the way LGBT characters have been portrayed.

4. Mala Mala (2014, dir. Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles)

Starring April Carrión, Mala Mala documents the stories of members of the trans-identifying community in Puerto Rico. The film portrays LGBT activists, sex workers, and drag performers and studies identity and the pursuit of self-discovery and acceptance.


5. Gay Sex in the 70s (2005, dir. Joseph Lovett)

Joseph Lovett’s 2005 documentary looks at the post-Stonewall gay liberation in the US up until the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s. The film shows this era as a time of increased understanding, clarity and desire among LGBT groups. Accompanied by a groovy 70s soundtrack, Gay Sex in the 70s captures the unsustainable period of carefree sexual experience.

6. Global Gay (2014, dir. Rémi Lainé)

Filmed in Russia, Cuba, Cameroon, Nepal and South Africa, Global Gay portrays the battle for the decriminalization of homosexuality throughout the world. This documentary portrays activists, lawyers and UN members fighting against criminalization and also tells the stories of LGBT people that have been convicted of homosexual “˜crimes’.


7. No Secret Anymore: The Life and Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (2003, dir. Joan E. Biren)

This film tells the story of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, lovers and activists that formed the first public organization for lesbians in America, the Daughters of Bilitis. The two women have fought passionately for LGBT rights, as well as women’s rights.

8. Pansy! (2015, dir. Jean-Baptiste Erreca)

Pansy follows gay London-based artist Paul Harfleet as he challenges intolerance by planting single pansies at sites of homophobic abuse. The film focuses on his “˜Pansy Project’ work in France, in which he photographs the freshly planted pansy along with a homophobic slur experienced by members of the LGBT community. These people tell their painful stories of homophobia and provide touching subjective accounts of their struggles against intolerance.


9. Call Me Kuchu (2012, dir. Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall)

Call Me Kuchu documents Ugandan LGBT activists as they fight against a proposed bill that would see homosexuality punishable by death in the country. The film also portrays the work and subsequent brutal murder of activist and so-called ‘first gay man of Uganda’, David Kato.

10. How to Survive a Plague (2012, dir. David France)

How to Survive a Plague documents the activism of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group); two groups that battled the stigma and medical neglect surrounding AIDS. These activists not only protested against government negligence, but even developed medical expertise themselves.

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