Welcome as we celebrate female filmmakers for pride month! As with other “identity months,” Pride Month is not a month-long event, but a moment to emphasize a decades-long struggle for equality and justice. Still, I always like to take this time to look hard at my viewing choices and see if I’m taking in diverse media. So for this blog post, I wanted to highlight some amazing queer women who have changed the landscape of cinema through their art. (Just to clarify, I’m using the academic term “queer,” which emphasizes all the different forms of sexuality and gender identity outside our culture’s narrow emphasis on cisgender heterosexuality).
A steady studio director from Hollywood’s Golden Era, Arzner was an anomaly in an era dominated by men. She worked with incredible actors like Katherine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and Clara Bow. She even invented the boom mic! Yet, her work has only recently been reevaluated and celebrated. Her most famous film, Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) is on Criterion, but one of my favorites, Get Your Man (1927), is in the public domain. It stars the incomparable Clara Bow as a crafty flapper heroine.
While Spike Lee rocked the cinematic world with Do the Right Thing (1989), another young black filmmaker also made her mark on 90s film as a pioneering filmmaker in the new Queer Cinema movement. Cheryl Dunye explores the intersectional identity of black lesbians through her short and feature length films. Her film The Watermelon Woman (1996) is fantastic. It follows a fictionalized version of Dunye as an aspiring filmmaker who researches a black actor from the 1930s consigned to “mammy” roles and billed only as “The Watermelon Woman.” With this film, Dunye expertly (and joyfully) reclaims the queer black experience in film history
Lana & Lilly Wachowski
I hate to say it, but I’m going to… kids these days! In particular, kids these days don’t realize how mind-blowing and influential The Matrix (1999) was. The film can also be read as a beautiful allegory for the transgender experience. But the Wachowski sisters aren’t just one-hit wonders. Their unique films always strive to be a little different from your standard blockbuster fare, and I, for one, admire that impulse.
Now that we’ve covered some of the heavy-hitters, let’s shine a light on some lesser-known filmmakers. Zero Chou is a lesbian Taiwanese filmmaker who has already won awards. With her journalism background, Chou brings a topicality to her films which explore “LGBT experiences of coming out, questions of identity, family issues, and marriage in the Chinese-speaking world.” Her most recent film, Wrath of Desire (2020), a drama about a love triangle, has received praise and is part of a larger series exploring queer themes in six different cities.
An Argentine auteur, Martel has achieved international acclaim and even worked with Pedro Almodovar, another legend in queer cinema. Though Martel’s films specifically comment on class and patriarchy in Argentine society, her films resonate all over the world. A cancer diagnosis slower her output, but with it in remission, she is back to directing. Her most recent film Zama (2017) is a “surreal period piece” that explores colonialism in Paraguay with grim humor. Martel is undeniably cool, even turning down an offer to direct from Marvel when they refused to let her direct action scenes!
I hope you enjoyed this little list. It truly is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to queer cinema, so this Pride Month, get on out there and explore! You can read about upcoming queer filmmakers here. And here are some movies about queer women of color you can stream.