Film has been home to queer and LGBTQ+ people, visibly or not, for the entirety of its history. Here are eight LGBTQ+ filmmakers still paving the way today!
By: Kennedy Randall
From pioneering gay director John Waters, to Canadian LGBTQ+ filmmakers making waves in the film festival scene, trans filmmakers, and queer filmmakers of colour, here are eight LGBTQ+ filmmakers to check out.
1. John Waters
With a wide variety of work, John Waters’ iconic musicals and comedies have gained a cult following since the 1970s. He is the man behind the original Hairspray (1988) which found even further popularity as a Broadway musical. His fabulous sense of humour continued with classics like Cry-Baby (1990) and Serial Mom (1994).
One of the first openly LGBTQ+ filmmakers, Waters has inspired many filmmakers through his oeuvre. His creativity doesn’t end with moving images either; he experiments with photo-based art and installations.
2. Lee Daniels
Lee Daniels is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. His work spans from arthouse film to hit twist-filled television as producer and director of FOX’s Empire and Star. His 2009 film Precious, went on to receive great critical acclaim and received nominations at the Academy Awards, Screen Actor Guild Awards, and many more.
Growing up, Daniels had pushback from his father about being gay, with many of those experiences inspiring the narrative of Precious. Though his father did not provide emotional support, Daniels’ grandmother supported him and his career.
3. Xavier Dolan
French-Canadian actor and director Xavier Dolan has gained international acclaim for exploring complicated relationships between friends and family, often revealing the ingrained homophobia present in society. He was born in Quebec, Canada and has been busy making 9 films in his 11-year career. His Canadian LGBTQ+ films have received widespread recognition, in particular his 2009 film J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) which he wrote, starred in, and directed.
With a semi-autobiographical narrative, I Killed My Mother explores the love-hate relationship between a young man discovering his homosexuality and his mother. The film’s coming-of-age narrative reveals the raw experience of growing up gay in a thought-provoking film style.
4. Kimberly Peirce
Prominent American indie filmmaker Kimberly Peirce operates through a feminist lens in her directing, writing, and producing. Her first feature film Boys Don’t Cry (1999) analyses the life and tragic death of a trans man, Brendon Teena.
She went on to direct an episode of the popular series The L Word, influenced by her own experiences being openly lesbian. Throughout her career, Peirce has remained a prominent activist with many other LGBTQ+ filmmakers for feminist movements and beyond.
5. Chase Joynt
Trans and gender diverse individuals haven’t always been represented in a fair light. The documentary film lens can sometimes be inaccurate portraying some things as true. Further, often the individuals on-screen are not involved behind the lens. Trans Canadian filmmaker Chase Joynt aimed to remedy these issues in his documentary Framing Agnes (2022) which explores the buried case files from a 1950 study led by sociologist Harold Garfinke at UCLAl.
In Framing Agnes, a cast of trans actors turn a talk show inside out to confront the legacy of a trans woman (Agnes) being forced to choose between honesty and access. The documentary-turned-feature film defies genre boundaries and was screened at Sundance 2022 and Hot Docs 2022. Though Joynt was the only transgender director featured this year at Hot Docs, Framing Agnes achieves their mission of widening trans history and getting trans voices heard.
6. Dee Rees
Screenwriter and director, Dee Rees started her career with the feature film Pariah (2011), which went on to gain international acclaim. Inspired by her own experience as a queer filmmaker of colour, Pariah follows a young black woman named Alke. The main character grapples with her sexuality and the world’s response to it. The movie won many awards, notably the N.A.A.C.P Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture. Also, her series Bessie with Queen Latifah earned an Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie.
Rees also acknowledges the need and desire for content aimed specifically at black consumers. She has said “We’re the consumers and we’re the producers” which she expresses in her LGBTQ+ and black characters, creating an intersectional picture of contemporary experience in America.
7. Isabel Sandoval
Recently, trans Filipina filmmaker Isabel Sandoval has made a splash in the indie film scene. In 2019, she was the first transgender woman of colour to compete at the Venice Film Festival with her feature Lingua Franca. This film, starring Sandoval herself, follows an undocumented Filipina trans woman who falls in love in Brooklyn. Lingua Franca was bought by Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY and released on Netflix, bringing Sandoval a widespread audience and recognition.
As a trans filmmaker, she is trying to bring trans characters and narratives out of the periphery. In so doing, Sandoval creates layered, complex and multi-dimensional characters who convey the reality of living as a trans individual in our political climate.
8. Goran Stolevski
Macedonian-Australian filmmaker Goran Stolevski took the 2022 Sundance Film Festival by storm with his feature debut You Won’t Be Alone. His folk horror film brings together questions of genre, queerness, and human connection in 19th century Macedonia. At Sundance, Stolevski took home Best International Short.
Stolveski often favours female protagonists and outsider perspectives. In You Won’t Be Alone, a young witch shape shifts and learns how to be human in the 1800s. Informed by his experience as a queer filmmaker, Stolveski’s work meditates on feeling out of place. However, he reminds us that we are never truly alone.