FIELD OF STREAMS highlights 5 LGBTQ films now streaming on Hulu, Showtime, Tubi, HBO Max, and more
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It’s Pride Month once again, yay! Sadly though, the Coronavirus has shut down the usual array of parades, parties and festivals as the community must be forced to celebrate this special month indoors. It’s especially sad that COVID-19 has put a stop to the festivities this year in particular. With the recent announcement of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling which promises equal rights in the workplace, there’s no doubt this year’s celebrations would have been especially off the wall. Regardless, like the many graduations, proms, birthdays and anniversaries, Pride will have to be remote this year.
The community may be staying home, but that doesn’t mean they can’t pay tribute to the month and all it means through streaming. With each decade that passes, gay and lesbian cinema continues its ascension in the world of film as many LGBTQ filmmakers push for films dealing with stories that are representative of the gay experience. No matter its critical or commercial reception, each film which shines a light on another story about the community represents a milestone in and of itself which can’t be dismissed. In honor of Pride Month, here are a few streaming titles which managed to do just that.
VICTIM (HBO Max)
One of the bravest films ever made about the subject, 1961’s Victim was a landmark in queer cinema. The plot deals with an attorney (Dirk Bogarde) who is tasked with unmasking a blackmailer threatening young gay men with exposure and potential jail time for acts of sodomy. However the tables are turned, when the attorney realizes the truth about his own hidden sexuality are likewise threatened. Actors and actresses turned down roles, while the British censors poured over the script with the utmost scrutiny all before the cameras rolled. It’s impossible to overstate just how forward and bold a movie like Victim was. It was the first mainstream film to use the word “homosexual” and didn’t waste a moment exposing the harsh legal realities gay men faced in late 50s/early 60s England. Every frame of Victim is compelling in its treatment of what was perhaps the most taboo of subjects for the time, resulting in a now-laughable X-rating from the censors. The film is well-plotted with an engaging mystery, but it’s tension comes at the stark view of the risks attached to being a gay man in that era and the dark price many ultimately had to pay.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE (The Criterion Channel)
The great Barbara Stanwyck’s penultimate film was this little-seen drama which featured an ensemble that included Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Capucine and Anne Baxter. The story is nothing to write home about; a drifter (Harvey) goes to a bordello to locate his long lost love (Capucine), encountering a kind shop owner (Baxter) and a prostitute with a mean streak (Fonda) along the way. In the center of this strays in Stanwyck’s Jo, the owner of the bordello who has eyes for her prized girl and won’t let any man take her away, no matter their history. The role is partially classic Stanwyck. Jo is tough, has a way with words and carries herself with purpose. But it’s the way Jo fawns over Halle (Capucine) where the film really becomes enticing. Seeing one of the grandest screen actresses who spent decades playing with and loving one leading man after another inhabit a character so tormented about her lesbian feelings makes Walk on the Wild Side all the more provocative. The film as a whole delivers and everyone’s great in it (even if Baxter is miscast playing a Hispanic woman), but it’s Jo’s obsession with the woman she loves but can only possess that makes the movie worth remembering today.
Sure, The Birdcage is a movie that’s been around over two decades now, but that shouldn’t discount the risks taken in bringing it to the screen. The original movie had played well in its native Italy, while the subsequent stage musical version was the toast of Broadway and the West End. But bringing it to the big screen in America would be a different story. There was no guarantee that the story of two longtime gay partners (Robin Williams and Nathan Lane) who go to elaborate lengths to pass themselves off as a conventional family when the latter’s biological son (Dan Futterman) brings home his fiance (Calista Flockhart) and her conservative parents (Gene Hackman and Diane Weist). Mainstream gay culture wasn’t a thing yet and many suspected that much of the country wasn’t ready for movie where homosexuality was treated in such an open and up front manner. The participation of Williams and director Mike Nichols no doubt helped this movie get made, but it was the public who turned it into a surprise hit, grossing four times its production budget in the U.S. alone. Watching it now, some of the comedy bits are a bit dated, but the acting and directing remain solid and The Birdcage’s overall view on what makes a family is as rich and poignant as ever.
By the early 2000s, queer cinema had reached a level of acceptance where a solid script could attract the likes of Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore, present its subject matter proudly and take home an Oscar in the process. The Hours did that in that very order with this era-traveling story of three women (including real-life author Virginia Woolf, played marvelously by Kidman) who all deal with the various states of their lives, including their sexuality. The Hours has a lot of the kind of pensive, philosophical moments to keep lovers of these kinds of dramas engaged. But its most interesting feature is the way the film tracks the issue of homosexuality through three very different women, each one a product of a very specific era. We see one driven mad by her sexuality, another trying desperately to stifle it and yet another who has embraced it as a fundamental part of who she is. It isn’t often that a film made on such a high profile and visible scale can successfully tackle the universal experience of what it means to be a woman navigating her own sexuality in quite the poetic way The Hours managed.
FREAK SHOW (Hulu)
When it came to teen stories dealing with homosexuality and alternative lifestyles, Love, Simon may have been the one that the public embraced; and rightfully so since it’s sweet, honest and well-made. But another title released around the same time was curiously overlooked. In Freak Show, Alex Lawther plays Billy Bloom, a New York gender fluid teen who was raised to be proud of every aspect of his sexuality by his boundary-less mother (a sadly miscast Bette Midler). When Billy is sent to live with his father, a politician from one of the red states, he looks to re-shape the closed minds of the kids from his new private school by running for homecoming queen. Freak Show is definitely a love letter to those who lived in fear as they were made to face their peers as youngsters struggling with their sexual identities. It’s therefore so inspiring to see a character such as Billy, complete with an endless stream of fabulous costumes and acerbic comebacks fight to keep his humor and his dignity as he deals with a culture he never imagined he’d find himself surrounded by. Freak Show’s themes of self-love and clinging to what makes a person who they are even in the face of fear makes this indie gem a must watch for all LGBTQ youths struggling to figure things out.
There are countless services to explore and great things to watch on all of them. Which ones did we miss that you would suggest to us? And, as always, if you’ve got thoughts on titles we’re missing out on or new services to check out, leave a comment below.
Check out Cinapse’s other streaming content in the meantime, but till next week… stream on, stream away.