Moonlight Moments

Beyond Moonlight: 5 Black LGBTQ films that blazed the trail

Moonlight is a modern cinema masterpiece blazing a trail through awards season. The awards favorite just won the Golden Globe for Best Drama last week, and is hotly tipped to grab multiple Academy Award nominations. However, black LGBTQ cinema has been around for decades, and Moonlight is standing on the shoulders of giants. 

If Moonlight has piqued your interest, here are a few more gems you may have missed over the years…

1. Pariah

The tale of a young black lesbian coming of age in Brooklyn, Pariah is a companion piece of sorts to Moonlight, though the comparisons to Precious it received during its 2011 release aren’t too far off. Pariah benefits greatly from out lesbian Dee Rees’ restrained direction, and Adepuro Oduye’s performance as Alika is a knockout, even receiving a shout out from Meryl Streep at that year’s Golden Globe awards.

Kim Wayans shines in a supporting role as Alika’s homophobic mother that sadly, didn’t lead to a Mo’Nique-esque shelf of awards hardware and stronger roles. Still, this is a film that gets better with age, and Moonlight arguably may have never been made without the ground broken by this subtle and heartbreaking look at the “L” in “LGBT.”

2. Brother to Brother 

Right before appearing in two films that took Academy Awards for Best Picture (The Hurt Locker and Million Dollar Baby), Anthony Mackie took a pre-Brokeback Mountain risk by starring as a young gay man navigating New York City life (and struggling with a complicated interracial relationship with his white boyfriend) in Brother to Brother.

Brother to Brother never caught fire with the mainstream like Moonlight, but the flick is definitely worth a look.  Mackie’s sensitive portrayal of lead Perry never veers into the stereotypical mannerisms some actors lean on when they “play” gay, and the dual narrative about sexual fluidity during the Harlem Renaissance era is a fascinating foray into queer history. Brother to Brother isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the more daring and bold pieces of Queer cinema to come from the last 15 years.

3.Paris is Burning

Iconic, legendary, and filled with more shade than a RuPaul’s Drag Race Convention, Paris is Burning is required viewing for anyone looking to start their black LGBTQ cinematic journey. Scratch that: it’s required viewing for everyone, especially those who talk about “throwing shade” without a clue as to where the phrase originated. This uncompromising look at NYC’s “voguing” scene in the 1980’s is both an unapologetic celebration of black, queer culture and a brilliant sociological study of lives lived on the margins.

Paris is Burning is filled with wonderful moments, but none so moving and deeply sad as one of the film’s final shots. Young transwoman Venus Xtravaganza lights a cigarette on Christopher Street pier at dusk while via voiceover, her house mother remembers helping police identify her lifeless body, strangled and stashed under a bed at a sleazy motel.

4. I Am Not Your Negro

This documentary is about one of the most important black queer minds of this century. Of course I’m talking about James Baldwin, the man known for writing queer classic Giovanni’s Room, which you should read immediately if you haven’t already.

I Am Not Your Negro is getting flat out raves. The Guardian calls it “a stunning look at the civil rights era,” and according to Variety it’s “kaleidoscopic and transporting.” It opens on February 3rd, just in time for Black History Month, and I’ll definitely be there. So should you.

5. Noah’s Arc

Why so serious? Yes, for black LGBTQ peeps the struggle can be real, but there is nothing wrong with taking a breather and watching sexy people get mixed up in romantic comedy situations. The theatrical spinoff of LOGO’s Noah’s Arc definitely fits the bill. This isn’t high art but that’s OK with us. If you haven’t seen Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom, do yourself a favor and check it out.

There’s a ton of eye candy on display, and the laughs come quickly and frequently (mostly from Jason Steed’s “Baby Gat” and fan favorite Rodney Chester). Also, the underlying messages about commitment, love, and acceptance are something we can all use in our lives right now.

We think these “fab five” black queer films are a great start for those interested in seeing more after Moonlight, and if you have any picks you’d recommend, definitely let us know in the comments section below!

Rob Smith is a multimedia journalist and author of Closets, Combat and Coming Out: Coming of Age as a Gay Man in the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Army.  Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.