It was about time a film like Moonlight, a universal ode to love about gay black men, won some Oscar gold. But how much do you know about all the groundbreaking depictions of queer people of color that came before it? Check out some of the more memorable roles below. The best part is that they’re all a part of equally fantastic films.
1. Alike (Adepero Oduye) – Pariah (2011)
Pariah is a touching autobiographical film directed by Dee Rees that follows a teenage girl, Alike, who is forced to come out to discover her voice. It’s a straightforward coming-out story, but the film stands apart in its attention to detail and Oduye’s gripping performance.
2. Carlos (Jesse Garcia) – Quinceañera (2006)
Jesse Garcia is so hot and sensitive in this film that it will make you want to move to East LA (I actually did). The film is sweet and represents a time in the sun-kissed metropolis that fades with every gentrifying minute.
3. Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and 4. Alexandra (Mya Taylor) – Tangerine (2015)
Sean Baker’s low-budget masterpiece is so sharp in its observation of street life in Hollywood, and Kitana and Mya just slay. The sheer emotional power and performance in the wig finale is next level.
5. Paul Poitier (Will Smith) – Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
Will Smith plays Paul Poitier, a gay hustler lying his way through the Upper East Side. This is the movie that made Smith a movie star, and it’s still his best performance.
6. Miguel Álvarez (Antonio Banderas) – Philadelphia (1993)
With the recent passing of Jonathan Demme, it would be remiss not to point out Antonio Banderas’s portrayal of Miguel Alvarez. Alvarez is Andrew Beckett’s (played by Tom Hanks) lover and the scene where they tell Alvarez that he’s not a part of Beckett’s real family was so jarringly wrong. It was scenes like this that were wake-up calls for most of America about gay rights.
7. Shug Avery (Margaret Avery) and 8. Celie Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg) – The Color Purple (1985)
Shug Avery and Celie Johnson’s relationship – while not as explicitly spelled out in the movie as it was in the book – was super scandalous at the time. Despite it being toned down for the big screen, their scenes together were tender and magical.
9. Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem) – Before Night Falls (2000)
Reinaldo Arenas was a Cuban queer poet and the focus of an impressionistic biopic by Julian Schnabel. The film delves deeply into the inner lives of its protagonist, and Javier Bardem knocked this one out of the park.
10. David (Joe Seo) – Spa Night (2016)
Andrew Ahn’s quiet meditation on queerness in LA’s K-Town was a big hit at Sundance in 2016. Joe Seo’s understated but subtle performance as David, the queer Korean boy looking for his true self, was effective and moving. Spa Night transports you into the most secret of worlds. It’s also pretty steamy.
11. Yiu-Fai (Leslie Cheung) and 12. Po-Wing (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) – Happy Together (1997)
Master filmmaker Wong Kar Wai weaves this story of two quarreling lovers who flee Hong Kong to Argentina, run out of money, and struggle with their dysfunctional relationship. Leslie Cheung and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung are so good at being messy and love crazy.