Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a rewatch.
The Groundbreaker: The Watermelon Woman
Strange how Cheryl Dunye, one of the great lesbian filmmakers of our time, has had such a low-profile career. After a series of short and experimental films, Dunye arrived on the New Queer Cinema scene with her rom-com/drama The Watermelon Woman, which combined scripted and documentary film techniques into a meta-narrative that walks the line between reality and fantasy.
The film stars Dunye as Cheryl, an alternate-reality version of herself: a black lesbian film enthusiast. While doing research on classic films of the 03s and 40s, Dunye becomes fascinated by an actress billed only as “The Watermelon Woman” (an unfortunate real-life practice for African-American actresses, who had to adopt caricature-like stage names rather than use their own). Cheryl becomes obsessed with learning more about the woman, particularly after she discovers that the actress in question was also a lesbian. Meanwhile, Cheryl also begins a flirtation with the beautiful Diana (Guinevere Turner), a leggy, brainy beauty with a passion for film of her own.
The Watermelon Woman uses its unusual format to comment on everything from queer dating to historical erasure to racism and homophobia. Dunye closes the film with a title card revealing that the story of the film is fiction by necessity: sometimes, thanks to the erasure of queer history, we have to imagine our own. It’s also not hard to see the wide-ranging influence of the film in contemporary LGBTQ artists such as Lee Daniels, John Cameron Mitchell, Mark Christopher, Todd Haynes, and, in particular, Lena Waithe. That Dunye has only made one feature film since The Watermelon Woman is our loss.
Quirky, funny, and inspiring, we offer it up as both an overlooked LGBTQ romantic comedy, and an inspiration: even when we must fill in the gaps of our own history with fiction, we can still find truth.
It all started this morning, when Carmen came into our little virtual office and lamented over her bowl of oatmeal: “Today is one of those days I wish I had photoshop skills, because I bet photoshopping that Bernie Sanders meme into famous gay tv scenes would be hilarious.”
Natalie, of course, saved the day — because it turned out you didn’t need fancy photoshopping to use that photo of Bernie Sanders and join in on the best meme of the last 36 hours. You only needed this:
And friends, once we got started, we absolutely couldn’t stop.
But I’m a Bernie!
(But I’m a Cheerleader)
Bernie’s Little Liars
(Pretty Little Liars)
Bernie Also Hates Mr. Schue
The L Word: Generation Bernie
(The L Word: Generation Q)
Bernie Sanders Is Once Again Asking Jenny Schecter To Stop Smoking in a Public Park
(The L Word)
Bernies of Tomorrow
(Legends of Tomorrow)
One Bernie at a Time
(One Day at a Time)
Bernie Said 🗣 “Kat You In Danger, Girl”
(The Bold Type)
Bernie Gives It a 9, At Best
Bernie Loves Creamed Spinach and a Dry Martini with an Olive
What are the best lesbian movies are on Netflix? What lesbian Netflix movies are good? This is probably a question you have typed into a search box before. Perhaps you typed that into a search box really recently, like ten seconds ago, and that’s why you’re here, now, with all of us, wondering about the best streaming lesbian movies online, or the best lesbian bisexual queer movies on Netflix. One of our Autostraddle Plus members requested a post about all the streaming lesbian-related films on Netflix and so here I am, delivering my deliverable to one of our many VIPs. In this case we are using “lesbian” as an adjective referring to romance and other activities between two women.
The Best Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer & Trans Movies On Netflix
Alice Wu’s lesbian take on Cyrano de Bergerac follows Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a shy, Chinese-American 17-year-old who splits her days taking care of her grieving father and writing essays for her peers for extra money. She forms an unexpected bond with the crush of a sweet football player who hires her to write her love letters. “It may not be a “love story” in the traditional sense, but it is about love,” wrote Malinda Lo in her review. “It’s about young people discovering what it is, what it isn’t, and what it could be. It’s about searching for your other half and finding that the other half might be within you. And yes, it’s about a queer Asian American girl — still a revolutionary subject for a mainstream film.”
This Netflix adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, produced by Ryan Murphy, follows a handful of out-of-work Broadway actors as they insert themselves into a small Indiana town to advocate for a teen to attend the prom with her girlfriend. It left Valerie with “a happy, joy-filled, unruly heart.”
Tender and droll and delightful all over, this documentary follows lesbian comedian Tig Notaro from her profile-exploding “I Have Cancer” comedy routine through you know, having cancer, meeting a nice lady, and managing her rapidly increasing fame.
“I watched the first 75 minutes of Gil Baroni’s new film Alice Júnior filled with giddy delight. I’ve seen a lot of movies with trans characters — a lot — and we simply do not get movies this joyful. This felt like trans Lady Bird by way of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as it aesthetically mimics model/YouTuber Alice’s social media adolescence. There’s an energy from beginning to end — a playfulness — that felt fresh, and thoughtful, and so fucking fun.” – Drew Gregory
Truly one of Netflix’s most impressive productions to date, this documentary offers a necessary overview of trans representation, mixing archival and contemporary footage with interviews with stars including Laverne Cox, Alexandra Billings, Angelica Ross, MJ Rodriguez, Zackary Drucker, Joey Solloway, Jen Richards, Chaz Bono, Leo Sheng and so much more. “Disclosure is vital whether it’s the beginning of your education or a supplement along the way,” writes Drew Greogry of this groundbreaking documentary. “It’s a reminder of what representation can do and what representation can be.”
Drew called this “poignant coming-of-age movie masquerading as a grand period love story” as “one of the most instantly iconic films of the last ten years.” Heather Hogan has called it “maybe the best lesbian movie ever made,” writing “Carol isn’t only a sweeping film about the incandescent connection between two women. It’s also an exploration of the way those two women struggle to carve out a life of dignity and autonomy during the oppression of the 1950s.” And of course who can forget 30 Days of Carol.
“I’m excited about this film, because it’s the rare feature written by, directed by, and starring a trans woman. But I’m also excited about it, because it’s an undeniably accomplished work of cinema. Not only is this film more than its labels because Sandoval sees her character’s humanity — it’s more than its labels because Sandoval is so good in all her roles. This is a patient and artful film, nuanced in its writing and direction, and filled with stellar performances.” – Drew Gregory
The early days of the groundbreaking 1970s band The Runaways — the first all-female hard-rock band signed to a major label — is dramatized in this gritty and energetic film that focuses on the relationship between (bisexual) Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and lead vocalist Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning).
This is not a cinematic masterpiece, but it is a solidly medium Christmas rom-com, of which we have very few with queer characters! Jennifer, feeling iffy about her upcoming marriage to a very rich young man, collides with a Guardian Angel who enables her to see what her life may have been like in an alternate universe — in which she married her best friend, Gabrielle. “I really wanted A New York Christmas Wedding to be better than what it is,” wrote Carmen in her review. “But ultimately, Christmas movies like this aren’t about being good — this is a genre that’s defined by cheese. It’s about that gooey warm feeling, deep in the pit of your stomach.”
“With a cheesy score and endless adolescent feelings, this popular Thai film about a “normal” girl and her “tomboy” college roommate will make you feel 18 again. This movie may send a terrible message to baby butches in love with their lowkey homophobic seemingly straight girl roommates, but it’s simply too adorable to resist.” -Drew Gregory
“This recent Netflix horror movie would be offensive for a multitude of reasons if it wasn’t so incoherent. Instead it’s just an absolutely wild, incredibly shallow thrill ride with a queer woman romance(??) at its center.” – Drew Gregory
Paula Pell plays “a lesbian antique shop owner from Portland with a new set of knees and thirst for love” in this film Heather described as ” improv funny and physical comedy funny and sight gag funny and punny funny — and a story about how sometimes our little personality quirks can only be distilled into their truest form and made manifest as our lurking anxieties and insecurities and maladaptive coping mechanisms when we’re in the company of the women who love us best and most.” Also, Cherry Jones is in it!
The 20 minutes of Indya Moore and MJ Rodriguez make the whole film totally worth it. The film follows a 14-year-old boy who’s bullied at school and threatened at home for being feminine but then he finds the ball community and, in turn, a place to truly call home.
“The inclusion of a queer romance in a film like this is exciting enough on its own. But what makes it all the more exciting is both Hewson and Akana are queer in real life! Hewson is non-binary and gay and Akana is bisexual. They’re both so good in their roles, bringing their charm and authenticity. ” – Drew Gregory
“Not the art film its showy Black & White cinematography and more creative flourishes seem to be aspiring for, but nevertheless an enjoyable period romance. Based on the true story of Spain’s first same-sex marriage, Isabel Coixet replaces an average looking queer woman and her androgynous love with two beautiful high femmes. It’s a bit silly and a bit long, but hey the sex scenes are great.” – Drew Gregory
It’s a very critically acclaimed movie, but casting a cisgender man to play the transgender woman at the center of the story — and re-writing the outcome of their relationship — gives us all a degree of pause that enables us to consequently back out of the room to go watch a different movie.
We originally had this under the “very mediocre” category because it got very bad reivews, but then Sally informed us that she in fact has seen it and furthermore; liked it. I trust Sally so here we are. The plot is described as “Just as Simone works up the courage to tell her conservative Jewish family she’s a lesbian, she finds herself attracted to a man.”
What Keeps You Alive
“Simple but effective, this lesbian horror movie about a murderous wife makes up for its outlandish premise with a tight style and a great performance from Brittany Allen. The whole charade would’ve been even scarier with a more logical script, but it’s still a fun ride.” – Drew Gregory
“Wendy Jo Carlton’s Good Kisser is a threesome farce that could have been the perfect movie for that mood. Unfortunately, it undercuts its strengths with manufactured conflict.” – Drew Gregory
Very Mediocre Lesbian Movies, Bisexual Movies and Queer Movies on Netflix
Perhaps one of the most biphobic works of art ever created, this 1992 film stars Sharon Stones as a bisexual crime novelist suspected of murdering her rock star boyfriend. “The thing about Basic Instinct is that it’s very bad,” wrote Rachel in her essay Sharon Stone Crossing and Uncrossing Her Legs. “It’s not just bad representation, it’s a stupid movie, as erotic thrillers from 1992 are wont to be.”
“This movie has everything: ambiguously-ethnic call girl, bored WASP-y housewife straight out of a Lifetime movie, a madame with a Barbie fixation, and every possible film transition known to cinema. But lesbihonest, folks: you’re not here for the narrative. It’s a cheeseball fest that you and your girl can quote for years to come.” – Kate Severance