It’s nearly June, so you know what that means, right?
It’s PRIDE Month!!!
Well, for folks living in the US that is! (For those of us queer folk living in the UK, Australia, & here with me in New Zealand, our Pride month was actually back in February.)
During June, all LGBTQ & Queer sites will be promoting various Pride-related posts, products, etc – and many larger companies will be hoping on the Queer bandwagon to capitilize on our very niche market while also showing that they support our unfortunately marginalized community. BUT – that’s not what I plan to do this year! Rather than going general, I’ve opted to go quite specific and focus on one genre of queer films: Queer Biographies!
So what makes a queer movie a queer biography film?
Well, IMDb notes that the Biography genre includes “…films where the primary focus is on the depiction of activities and personality of a real person or persons, for some or all of their lifetime. Events in their life may be reenacted, or described in a documentary style. If re-enacted, they should generally follow reasonably close to the factual record, within the limitations of dramatic necessity.”
All of the five queer biography films I’ve included below a fictional stories that focus on the true lives and stories of actual people. As such, some of the storylines and even some characters have been adapted to tell a better story; however these are not Queer Documentaries, which include interviews and actual footage. Nor are they Queer Histories, which may include stories about actual people but tend to focus more on the overall historical event. However, even I will admit that there is a very fine line between Queer Histories & Queer Biographies!
And this month’s selection of Queer Biography films includes quite a variety of topics. Two films highlight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, specifically during the outbreak of the 80’s and 90’s. They both show how personal lives were upended from the uncertainty of this deadly disease, while one focuses on the struggle to get treatments that actually work. One of these queer biography films highlights the dangers of religious conversion therapy. And yet another film focuses on religion in different ways – both the personal struggle of acceptance against a religious upbringing which results in tragedy, but also how a suicide victim’s family struggles to answer those same religious based questions. Lastly, I’ve included a queer biography film that highlights homophobia itself during a time when Nazi Germany tried to eradicate our community.
Some of these films highlight times of a past era, noting specifically that HIV/AIDS is generally no longer the death-sentence that it initially ways. However, some of the topics continue to persist even today. Religious homophobia and conversion therapy are STILL prevalent, despite our best efforts. And unfortunately, our own existence is yet again being threatened by Nazis and similar right-wing groups. While these films are fictional retellings of queer people’s lives, it is important that we continue to share these stories.
Keep reading to find out which five queer biography films made this month’s list, and whether or not they’re worth your time to watch!
[Note: Not all of these films have full reviews yet – but they’re added to the quickly growing list of films I plan to tackle soon!]
5 Queer Biography Films For Pride Month
In mid-1980s Texas, electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is starting to learn that he has AIDS. Though told he has just 30 days left to live, Woodroof refuses to give in to despair. He seeks out alternative therapies and smuggles approved drugs into the US from where ever he can find them. Woodroof joins forces with a fellow AIDS patient (Jared Leto) and begins selling the treatments to the growing number of people who can’t wait for the medical establishment to save them.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is an award-winning queer biography film with both Matthew McConaughey & Jared Leto taking home Oscars. McConaughey won for his portrayal of real-life AIDS patient & Dallas Buyers Club founder, Ron Woodroof, while Leto won for creating the fictional character of Rayon which brought to life many actual real life AIDS patients and helpers. And what a performance! However, the film’s powerful message comes from many angles.
To start, Ron Woodroof was a very straight, homophobic cowboy who contracted HIV from unprotected sex and drug usage. Having a mainstream film portray a cis white straight male alongside a transwoman (albeit a tad too stereotypical for both characters) brought wider attention to the actual issues of the mid-1980’s when people were dying from HIV/AIDS – and the FDA was reticent and even blocked efforts of those trying to help. Woodroof’s personal battle with the FDA and the courts helped pave way for many of the treatments that actually work. Regardless of their Oscar-winning performances, “Dallas Buyers Club” is an important queer biography film that every LGBTQ person should watch!
Jared (Lucas Hedges), the son of a Baptist pastor in a small American town, is outed to his parents at age 19. Jared is faced with an ultimatum: attend a gay conversion therapy program – or be permanently exiled and shunned by his family, friends, and faith.
Boy Erased is a difficult film to watch. Overall, it’s a darker film both in the cinematographic style and the key storyline. The entire LGBTQ community knows that conversion therapy is a harmful practice; it is NOT a solution. Nor is being gay, despite what many religious groups continue to proclaim. But watching someone willingly go through a conversion therapy program is a challenge. The fact that this is based on a true story makes it hit home even harder. But despite being a tough film to get through, “Boy Erased” sends a powerful message and ends on a positive note. And it’s brought to life by an award-winning cast! Unless you have trauma from having to go through similar situations, I strongly recommend everyone should watch “Boy Erased”. Perhaps then we can finally get rid of conversion “therapy” and actually support our queer youth.
In 1931 budding author Christopher Isherwood (Matt Smith) goes to Berlin at the invitation of his friend W. H. Auden (Pip Carter) for the gay sex that abounds in the city. Whilst working as an English teacher his housemates include bewigged old queen Gerald Hamilton (Toby Jones) and would-be actress Jean Ross (Imogen Poots), who sings tunelessly in a seedy cabaret club. After a fling with sexy rent boy Caspar (Alexander Dreymon) he falls for street sweeper Heinz (Douglas Booth), paying medical bills for the boy’s sickly mother, to the disapproval of her other son, Nazi Gerhardt. With Fascism rapidly rising Christopher returns to London with Heinz but is unable to prevent his return to Germany when his visa expires. Years later Christopher, now a successful writer, returns to Berlin for a final meeting with Heinz, now married with children.
If you’ve seen “Christopher and his Kind”, then you might be thinking: “Isn’t this just a retelling of the musical film, Cabaret”? Well, it’s actually the reverse! The queer musical hit “Cabaret” is actually a reworking of the play, “I Am Camera”, which itself is a retelling of Christopher Isherwood’s autobiographical memoir, “Christopher and His Kind” published in 1976. Back in 2011, BBC took the original course of Isherwood’s memoir and adapted it into a TV film, which is the one I am remarking upon today. This queer biography film is quite interesting to watch. While the film naturally has some tragic and darker moments, it also portrays some of the happier times in Isherwood’s early life including travel, wanderlust, and even romance. Whether you’re after a recreating of gay life in Weimar Germany of the 1930’s or if you’re simply keen to know more about the source material for “Cabaret”, I highly recommend watching “Christopher and His Kind”!
Tim (Ryan Corr) and John (Craig Stott) fell in love while teenagers at their all-boys high school. John was captain of the rugby team, Tim an aspiring actor playing a minor part in Romeo and Juliet. Their romance endured for 15 years in the face of everything life threw at it – the separations, the discrimination, the temptations, the jealousies and the losses – until the only problem that love can’t solve tried to destroy them.
Films that are based on true stories often tug at our emotional heartstrings, and “Holding The Man” is no exception. However, that’s because despite being a beautiful romance, Tim & John’s 15-year love affair ends in tragedy: both boys are diagnosed with AIDS. Set during the 70’s & 80’s in Australia, this queer biography film captures one of queer history’s most tragic times. Full of uncertainty, stigma, and an almost certain death sentence at the time, AIDS simply devastated the queer community. Amid all of this, “Holding The Man” brings to life on screen how being diagnosed AIDS affected both boys and their life together. This film adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s memoir unfortunately ends with a sad ending as both boys succumb to the disease. “Holding The Man” is a heartfelt queer biography film that everyone should watch.
Bobby Griffith (Ryan Kelley) was his mother’s (Sigourney Weaver) favorite son, the perfect all-American boy growing up under deeply religious influences in Walnut Creek, California. Bobby was also gay. Struggling with a conflict no one knew of, much less understood, Bobby finally came out to his family.
It took nearly 13 years to bring “Prayers For Bobby” to life on TV, but when it finally aired in 2009, this queer biography film was a huge success. The film is based on the biographical novel by Leroy F. Aarons, “Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son”, which stems from interviews with Mary Griffith, Bobby’s mother, and how she coped before and after her son’s suicide due to her own homophobia. While the film certainly evokes emotions and tears, it paints an honest picture of how surviving family members try to cope with suicide, specifically when their own prejudices attributed to that suicide. However, while there are dark and triggering moments, the real message is one of hope and comprehension that Mary and her family arrive at after their own struggles. I strongly encourage you to watch “Prayers for Bobby” today!
So what did you think – do you agree with these five Queer Biography Films? Have you seen all of them yet? If so, let me know which one was your favourite. And if you haven’t watched them all yet, I highly encourage you to add these Queer Biography Films to your watch list ASAP!