Hot dogs, fireworks, wieners and Katy Perry’s “Firework“–yes, the 4th of July is here. Feeling patriotic can pose a challenge in the era of Trump, bathroom bills, and retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
As a sort of antidote, we’ve prepared this screening list of films that will remind viewers of triumphs and tragedies throughout America’s history in the struggle to preserve democracy, and further the cause of equality. So, if you need a reprieve from the heat this 4th, seek shelter from the rain or just want to avoid the mosquitoes, grab the potato salad and order up some of these movies on streaming. It’s a fine way to celebrate pride in America, flawed as her history may be.
1. Angels in America
The greatest work of American drama (written by one of the great gay playwrights) comes to the screen almost impossibly well thanks to the work of one of the great American directors, Mike Nichols. With an all-star cast, this mediation on America, the dreadful Republican Party, AIDS, and religion retains all of its power with searing humor and powerful drama.
Streams on HBO GO, YouTube, Amazon, Vudu & iTunes.
2. Soldier’s Girl
Based on the true-life story of Calpernia Addams, Soldier’s Girl follows the romance of Addams and Air Force private Barry Winchell. With two fine performances by Troy Garity (hottie son of Jane Fonda) and the recently-outed Lee Pace, the film will leave audiences outraged, and remind viewers of the importance of defending the “T” in the LGBTQ initialism.
Streams on YouTube.
When does Milk not do a body good? We’re not sure, but the film certainly fits here as a fine example of patriotism and work by queer artists–namely director Gus Van Sant and Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black. A biopic of gay rights hero Harvey Milk, the film recalls the patriotism and vision of its title character and will inspire future generations to keep fighting for the promises of American equality.
Streams on Netflix, VUDU, YouTube, Amazon & iTunes.
4. When We Rise
Black & Van Sant strike again with this miniseries about the LGBTQ rights movement. When We Rise plays as an interesting companion piece to Milk, covering similar territory without getting redundant, as it covers the early days of the movement under Harvey Milk, the dark days of the AIDS crisis, and the push toward marriage equality.
Streams on YouTube, Amazon, VUDU and iTunes.
A number of credible historians have made the case that good ole honest Abe might have actually been one of ours. Lincoln doesn’t really flirt with that possibility, though the movie does emphasize the importance and ongoing need to fight for the rights of others. That the script comes from gay screenwriter Tony Kushner (who also penned Angels in America…go figure) is an added bonus. Lincoln provides a portrait of one of the great Americans, a role model to us all.
Streams on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, iTunes & VUDU.
6. Inside Deep Throat
Gay master documentarians Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato forged the crown jewel of their careers with Inside Deep Throat. The film examines the cultural forces leading up to and set in motion by the famed porno film Deep Throat. A number of queer commentators, like Gore Vidal and John Waters, provide insight, and the movie helps explain the direct link from the sexual revolution that gave birth to both Deep Throat and the modern gay rights movement. Oh, and it also explains how the film helped take down a corrupt president, for anyone needing some bonus inspiration.
Streams on VUDU & Amazon.
7. Primary Colors
Ok, so Primary Colors isn’t explicitly gay-themed. It does, however, feature one of Kathy Bates’ best performances as the lesbian campaign manager of Governor Jack Stanton–a would-be President modeled on Bill Clinton. The debate rages on as to how much of Primary Colors is meant to share inside details of Clinton’s personal life and the inner workings of his 1992 campaign. In any case, the film offers a grim reminder of how Clinton promised to champion gay rights only to throw LGBTQ people under the bus after his election. Oh, and the film stars John Travolta in his best performance. Take that as you will.
Streams on YouTube, Amazon, VUDU & iTunes.
8. Stonewall Uprising
Not to be confused with the abysmal Roland Emmerich feature from several years ago, PBS produced Stonewall Uprising as part of its American Experience series. The documentary features interviews with frequent patrons of the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights struggle, and a reconstruction of the riots that broke out June 28, 1969.
Streams on PBS.org, Amazon Prime & YouTube.
9. Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin
Bayard Rustin remains an unsung hero of both the black and queer Civil Rights movements. This documentary aims to shed some light on the man, who lived a life of passion, activism, and belief in the promise of America. Also, if knowing that President Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2013, presenting it to Rustin’s longtime boyfriend Walter Naegle doesn’t make you reach for your flag and your Kleenex, we don’t know what will.
Streams on PBS.org and Kanopy.
10. Top Gun
Nothing says “gay Americana” like a bunch of shirtless, jacked Air Force Pilots playing volleyball, wrestling and trying to outdo one another. The movie uses 1980s San Diego as a backdrop–a city known for its overstuffed closet at the time–features lesbian Kelly McGillis as a romantic lead, Tom Cruise & bleach-blond Val Kilmer (’nuff said) and a campy soundtrack oft-heard at any gay bar 80s night. Make sure to share those observations with your Trump-voting relatives who keep the DVD displayed in their living room.
Streams on YouTube, Amazon, VUDU & iTunes.