It’s hard to log online without seeing breathless praise for Call Me By Your Name.
Lauded as a masterpiece by countless critics, the gay love story has enamored viewers worldwide with its sun-drenched backdrops, its ‘risqué’ peach scene, and its apparently ‘universal’ tale of love overcoming adversity.
It’s an undeniably brilliant film but, aside from director Luca Guadagnino, it’s a portrayal of queer intimacy made, as usual, with extremely little involvement from any actual LGBTQ talent. But this is nothing new.
Straight actors have been ‘playing gay’ for years, often finding themselves rewarded with acclaim, award nominations, and respect for taking ‘uncomfortable’ roles. This rhetoric is writ large in many interviews with leading stars; the idea is that, by stepping outside of their own heterosexuality, these actors are supposedly doing us a favor and compromising their masculinity in the name of (apparent) queer visibility.
You could argue that it’s not a problem. Actors playing gay roles are just doing their job, and it’s a well-known fact that high-profile stars are often needed to get any ‘queer’ movies commissioned. But it’s hard to ignore that fact that while the year’s most profitable gay love stories are pumping profit into a film industry built on exploitation, actual LGBTQ actors are often left struggling to get cast or are still being slotted neatly into one-dimensional stereotypes.
So while the success of Call Me By Your Name may represent a minor step forward, our representation still isn’t entirely in our hands or fully controlled by us from start to finish. Because even in 2017, a supposedly stellar year for queer cinema, the biggest successes are still made with very little queer involvement. This pattern is indicative of an industry willing to profit from our experiences but unwilling to actually give us a platform.
So, with that in mind, we trawled through festival schedules, online trailers, and independent studios to find three varied alternatives: expect lesbian cults, murderous lovers, and poignant, heart-warming examples of global trans excellence.
Here’s what we found:
Bruce LaBruce. The Misandrists.
There aren’t many movies about radical lesbian terrorist cells, but cult icon Bruce LaBruce fills this void spectacularly with The Misandrists, a thrilling, stylish romp through rural Ger(wo)many.
Set in 1999, the action takes place in a sequestered countryside home ruled by “Big Mother,” a dissident nun you would not want to fuck with. Here, she watches over her coven of queer schoolgirls, all of whom she encourages to make love freely and frequently – oh, and also to murder men and overthrow the patriarchy.
In an interview with Dazed, conducted while the project was still crowd-funding, LaBruce outlined his intentions to spark conversations about extremism and essentialism. These discussions happen vicariously through the subversion of porn clichés (nuns, schoolgirls, orgies) and the tongue-in-cheek title, both of which nod to LaBruce’s history of provocation.
It’s aesthetically slick, too: the sex scenes are beautiful without being gratuitous, whereas the costumes are basically Cher from Clueless at a military academy. It’s unapologetically queer, completely bonkers, and laced with shrewd commentaries on sex and sexuality – what more could you ask for?
Ingrid Jungermann. Women Who Kill.
Although often billed as a thriller, Ingrid Jungermann’s debut feature, Women Who Kill (first screened last year but released this year) is actually a razor-sharp rom-com which puts the queer creator center stage. She plays one of two crime podcast hosts, both of whom happen to be ex-girlfriends and mutually obsessed with female serial killers – so far, so good.
This desire is soon called into question when they meet a love interest who could, you know, actually be a murderer; it’s these lashings of mystery and stereotypical horror signifiers (tense music, dark alleys, binders full of potential clues) which make this movie so different from its contemporaries.
Contextually, these horror tropes were included as a reference to the fear Jungermann attached to her sexuality growing up as a Jehovah’s witness in Florida. This sense of candor is characteristic of the director’s work, which began in 2011 with online comedy series The Slope. An exploration of the lives and minds of a queer couple living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The aim was to illuminate internalized homophobia; as she said herself in a 2013 interview, “Just because I’m a lesbian doesn’t mean I’m evolved.”
Still, Jungermann is quickly becoming one of the most promising queer talents in the film industry – it may not be perfect, but Women Who Kill offers a glimpse of brilliance and an antidote to the male-driven narratives we’re so often spoon-fed.
Silas Howard. More Than T.
“So often, I feel like trans representation in early stages is about representation in isolation that’s the sole focus of their lives, that they’re trans.”
These are the words of Silas Howard, well-known for his work as a director of Transparent and the hilarious web series Hudson Valley Ballers. He wanted to create an alternative to these tokenized narratives; this year, with the help of MAC, he worked alongside actor, activist, and INTO contributor Jen Richards to realize this dream through the beautiful, much-needed documentary, More Than T.
Told through the words and life stories of seven trans/gender non-conforming trailblazers, this documentary puts representation firmly in the hands of those who best understand their own realities. Howard teaches us that trans experiences are diverse: we see the stories of Mia Yamamoto, a poverty lawyer and war veteran; Reverend Louis Mitchell, an advocate and community leader; and Gizelle Messina, a MAC makeup artist whose words are rooted in the spirit of survival.
More Than T is entertaining, empowering, and uplifting; most importantly, it’s undeniable proof that queer stars, film-makers, and producers are more than capable of narrating their own experiences.