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Sunday, December 03, 2023
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Collage courtesy of Gabby Hartlaub

Ten docs to watch for LGBTQ+ History Month

Many films take aim to inform on long lost LGBTQ+ History

October is LGBTQ+ History Month, and while Madison has plenty of LGBTQ+ history of its own and Milwaukee was the site of a now-famous LGBTQ+ Protest, The Daily Cardinal highlights films with a national perspective for viewing during October. 

Here are ten films that will expand your understanding of LGBTQ+ issues and put current struggles into historical context that are perfect for viewing this month.

Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria (2005) 

Where to watch: YouTube 

Three years before the Stonewall Riots in New York City, the drag community in San Francisco took on a local establishment and corrupt police at Compton's Cafeteria. This film tells the story of San Francisco's “tenderloin” neighborhood and gives much-needed light and recognition to an act of queer rebellion. 

My Name is Pauli Murray (2021) 

Where to watch: Prime Video

Pauli Murray was a nonbinary Black activist whose writing and ideas inspired such legal legends as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall. This film finally allows their work to come to light and teaches about this trailblazing lawyer, activist, poet and priest.

Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt (1989) 

Where to watch: YouTube

The NAMES Project was a huge memorial quilt that spread the length of the National Mall, with each panel representing someone who had died from the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This film focuses on five of the quilt’s panels, telling the story of those five people who died. 

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (2003) 

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Where to watch: YouTube 

This film follows the life of Bayard Rustin, a civil rights advocate often pushed to the side in talks about activists of his time due to his known identity as a gay man. This film uses archival footage and interviews with the man himself to explain his life and work as well as to chronicle his struggle to be recognized and taken seriously due to homophobia. 

United in Anger: A history of ACT Up (2012) 

Where to watch: YouTube 

In its prime, ACT Up was the leading group fighting against government and systemic silence surrounding the AIDS epidemic. This film comes from the perspectives of those who lived it and were a part of the organization as they struggled for the government and other leaders to recognize the epidemic. 

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) 

Where to watch: HBO MAX 

This film chronicles the civil rights movement through the perspective of James Baldwin, a prolific writer and gay man who was prominent in the Civil Rights Movement through both activism and his writing. The film uses interviews with Baldwin and narration from Samuel L. Jackson to bring Baldwin's words to life. 

The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson (2017) 

Where to watch: Netflix 

Marsha P. Johnson, a self-described drag queen and prominent figure of the gay and transgender rights movement in the 1980s, died under suspicious circumstances in 1992. The film follows activist Victoria Cruz as she investigates Johnson’s life and death. 

Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (2017) 

Where to watch: YouTube

Lorraine Hansbury was the first African-American female playwright to have a play on Broadway with “A Raisin in the Sun.” Hansbury also attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years before beginning her writing career. This film profiles her life and attempts to show her writing and personal ambitions. 

Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine (2013) 

Where to watch: Tubi 

The 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay man and University of Wyoming student, horrified the country and started a much-needed dialogue about hate crimes and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in the United States. This film tells the story of Matthew Shepard through the perspective of one of his friends and defines the person outside of the horrific crime. 

Welcome to Chechnya (2020) 

Where to watch: HBO MAX, Hulu or Amazon Prime 

For an international perspective on LGBTQ+ Rights, David France’s film tells the story of a group of LGBTQ+ activists in the Russian Chechen Republic. The leader of the country is staunchly anti-LGBTQ+ and has instituted programs to detain, torture and execute queer people. The film follows activists as they try to gain international recognition for crimes committed by the country's leadership. 

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Gabriella Hartlaub

Gabriella Hartlaub is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. She also reports state politics and life & style stories. Follow her on Twitter at @gabihartlaub.


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