Michael Crawford

10 Gay Documentaries Everyone Should See

Filed By Michael Crawford | May 28, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Gay Icons and History
Tags: gay film, gay history, gay men, gay rights

As an antidote to the straight-washed version of history foisted on us by traditional media and educational institutions, I present to you 10 Gay Documentaries Everyone Should See. These ten films only begin to scratch the surface of the rich and amazing history of LGBT people. Find out more at the GLBT Historical Society.

Also check out 10 Films Every Gay Boy Should See and 10 Books Every Gay Boy Should Read.

If you have other suggestions of gay documentaries that people should see, leave the titles in the comments section.

1. Before Stonewall - shows that gay history did not begin with the Stonewall Riots, but in fact existed far before it. Through the use of archival footage and interviews, the film shows vividly what life was like when gays were forced to hide their sexuality for fear of reprisals.


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2. After Stonewall - documents the progress and challenges facing the gay community since the Stonewall Riots. Like Before Stonewall, the film weaves together archival footage and interviews and chronicles key events from 1970 to the end of the 20th century, including sexual liberation, conflicts with the feminist movement, AIDS and political organization.


iPhone users: Click to watch

3. The Life and Times of Harvey Milk - details the life of the heroic Harvey Milk who became the first openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by anti-gay conservative Dan White. White was sentenced to a mere seven year prisoned sentence after claiming to have consumed a large quantity of Twinkies and other junk food. The mild sentence led to the White Night Riots.


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4. Gay Sex in the 70s - is a fascinating look at gay life in NYC after the Stonewall riots in the period often referred to as the golden era of gay sexual liberation before the AIDS epidemic unleashed its hellacious fury on gay men.


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5. Paris is Burning - shows that as fabulous as Madonna is, she did not invent vogueing. Vogueing and the gay ball scene has a long proud history in the Black and Latino gay communities and the groundbreaking documentary Paris is Burning brings that history to light in all its feathered and sequined glory.


iPhone users: Click to watch

6. The Celluloid Closet - unearths the queer subtext in Hollywood films and traces the history of lesbian and gay characters in popular movies. The film is based on the book by Vito Russo and shows how Hollywood has sought to benefit from gay creativity while attempting to shove us in a gilded closet.


iPhone users: Click to watch

7. Paragraph 175 - shows the vicious persecution of gay men by the Nazis during World War II. At the time of the making of the film only a handful of gay survivors were still alive to share their stories.


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8. For the Bible Tells Me So - examines the ways in which right-wing extremists have distorted and misused biblical scripture to justify their hatred of and deny basic civil rights to LGBT people.


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9. TransGeneration - is an eight part series that follows a year in the lives of four transgender college students.


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10. Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt - is the Academy award winning story of the first decade of the AIDS epidemic through the use of personal reminiscences, archival footage and interviews with politicians, health professional and people living with AIDS.


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Michael, as good as this list is, it is incomplete without including the DVD version of Coming Out Under Fire, which covers the experiences of American gay and lesbian soldiers serving during WWII. It is, in a way, the American side of the coin in contrast with Paragraph 175.

I suggest 'Trembling Before G-d.'

"Trembling Before G-d is an unprecedented feature documentary that shatters assumptions about faith, sexuality, and religious fundamentalism. Built around intimately-told personal stories of Hasidic and Orthodox Jews who are gay or lesbian, the film portrays a group of people who face a profound dilemma - how to reconcile their passionate love of Judaism and the Divine with the drastic Biblical prohibitions that forbid homosexuality. As the film unfolds, we meet a range of complex individuals - some hidden, some out - from the world's first openly gay Orthodox rabbi to closeted, married Hasidic gays and lesbians to those abandoned by religious families to Orthodox lesbian high-school sweethearts.

Many have been tragically rejected and their pain is raw, yet with irony, humor, and resilience, they love, care, struggle, and debate with a thousands-year old tradition. Ultimately, they are forced to question how they can pursue truth and faith in their lives. Vividly shot with a courageous few over five years in Brooklyn, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, London, Miami, and San Francisco, Trembling Before G-d is an international project with global implications that strikes at the meaning of religious identity and tradition in a modern world. For the first time, this issue has become a live, public debate in Orthodox circles, and the film is both witness and catalyst to this historic moment. What emerges is a loving and fearless testament to faith and survival and the universal struggle to belong."

http://www.filmsthatchangetheworld.com/site/about/

What a great post - cool!

And, before Stonewall actually seeing women of color - oh my what a great way to have started off!

Thanks,

Thanks for putting this list on TBP, Michael. I have seen most of them, but a few must have escaped me! I'll be adding them to my movie que right away!

One I would add is the series that recently played on VH1 called "Sex:The Revolution." It covered the sexual revolution from the 50's to the present, with lots of amazing early footage and interviews with legendary activists.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | May 28, 2008 8:35 PM

The great thing is that are a lot more fascinating films that capture the gay experience. It is important that we know our history and that non-gay people learn it as well.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 29, 2008 4:15 AM

Just an amazing collection Michael!

Projectors,
You may want to add the 1985 Lee Grant produced and narrarated 'What Sex Am I?' It covers a wide swath of the transgender spectrum from a Houston girl about to have her surgery, San Francisco gender benders, California transman Steve Dain and crossdressers.

There's 'How Do I Look?', the Wolfgang Busch directed documentary which picks up where 'Paris Is Burning' left off.

'Trantasia' is a documentary about the Most Beautiful Transsexual Pageant held in Las Vegas in 2005 and peeks into the lives of some of the contestants.


There is one film that needs to be added to this list and should have been in the top ten, in my opinion, "Southern Comfort."

I recommend "Word Is Out - stories of some of our lives" from 1978 by The Mariposa Film Group.

It's somewhat dated by now, but that's even a better reason for people to see it. I don't think younger people 'get' what it used to mean to be gay, and this is a reminder. And for those of us of a certain age, it really rings true.

The film itself is simple: just interviews with different men and women (including gender variant ones) from all different backgrounds, etc. There are also some surprises about how some of these lives intersected one another.

But their stories are so powerful, and some of the people are so remarkable, it's a great documentary. One of the filmmakers, Peter Adair, went on to win an Oscar for another documentary; I believe it was for "The Times of Harvey Milk".

I recommend "Word Is Out - stories of some of our lives" from 1978 by The Mariposa Film Group.

It's somewhat dated by now, but that's even a better reason for people to see it. I don't think younger people 'get' what it used to mean to be gay, and this is a reminder. And for those of us of a certain age, it really rings true.

The film itself is simple: just interviews with different men and women (including gender variant ones) from all different backgrounds, etc. There are also some surprises about how some of these lives intersected one another.

But their stories are so powerful, and some of the people are so remarkable, it's a great documentary. One of the filmmakers, Peter Adair, went on to win an Oscar for another documentary; I believe it was for "The Times of Harvey Milk".

This is a great list! I also recommend Susan Stryker's Screaming Queens, which is about a pre-Stonewall, trans-led uprising against police brutality in the Tenderloin.

Fantastic list - and some great suggestions for other options too. I'd add Inlaws and Outlaws to the other options. Is it too geeky to say that some of my favorite movies are documentaries?

KMFox9400 | May 29, 2008 11:44 AM

Thanks for so much Michael for this list. As a man who came out late in life (at age 46 from a 21-year straight marriage) I'm always looking for additions to the reading and viewing list of my Evelyn Wood Speed Gay curriculum. I just loaded all the films onto my Netflix queue and I can't wait to start watching them.

Small Town Gay Bar's pretty great too.

This is total self-promotion! But I hope anyone interested in documentaries about gay and lesbian lives will take a look at our website. You can find find two of our docs in Netflix: Family Values: An American Tragedy and Call to Witness (about openly gay and lesbian pastors in the Lutheran Church). And find out more and view clips from award-winning docs like Gay Youth, Out in Suburbia, Liberty: 3 Stories about Life & Death, Raging Grannies, and more at http://www.pamwaltonproductions.com

another great one I just watched tonight is The Butch Factor, analyzing masculinity, and the identities of Gay men of all different backgrounds.