Skip to main content

Ringing in Pride Month: LGBTQIA+ Documentaries to Watch

By Zaferhan Yumru

Subjects of the movie Paris is Burning, posing for the camera. They are all in glamorous makeup and fashion and colorful clothing.

Happy pride month! We asked IDA team for their favorite queer documentaries and rounded them up in this article for you.

I will use this opportunity to recommend a documentary from Turkey, where Pride remains a Riot. If you are wondering why the re-elected President Erdogan started his victory speech with hatred towards LGBTQ+ citizens in Turkey two weeks ago, here’s a good start: #DirenAyol (#ResistAyol). Filmed during and in the aftermath of the Gezi Park protests in 2013, #ResistAyol documents the events after the first time the Turkish government decided to ban the pride parade, which took place somewhat peacefully for ten years prior. Directed by Rüzgâr Buşki, a Turkish artist and filmmaker living in Berlin, the documentary is available on Vimeo for free.

Bonus 1: If you are in San Francisco for Frameline, catch the US premiere of Blue ID on June 15. Directed by Vuslat Karan and Burcu Melekoğlu, this new documentary follows a formerly famous actor, Rüzgar Erkoçlar, who struggles with self-realization and acceptance in Turkey under the media spotlight as a trans man. In Turkey, government IDs used to come in pink or blue colors according to the gender assigned at birth.

House of Tulip posterBonus 2 (aka shameless plug): Catch House of Tulip at a festival near you soon. Directed by Cydney Tucker and produced by yours-truly, House of Tulip follows two Black trans activists, Mariah Moore, and Milan Sherry, as they run for office and work to build Louisiana’s first housing refuge that provides residency for trans and gender non-conforming residents. They fight to use their organization (House of Tulip) to protect and build a community in a state with one of the highest gun-related murder rates in the country. Louisiana lawmakers recently approved (June 6) anti-LGBTQ+ bills that include a ban on trans care for minors which is (for now) vetoed by the governor. The next festival stop for House of Tulip will be Outfest in Los Angeles on July 16.

In solidarity,

Zaferhan Yumru
IDA Director of Marketing & Communications

Here's a list of Queer documentaries to watch during Pride 2023, recommended by our incredible team!

Thank you to Anisa Hosseinnezhad (IDA Membership & Individual Giving Program Manager) for compiling this list <3

Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, 1989)

This groundbreaking combination of documentary and performance, as described by director Marlon Riggs, was created to challenge the silence surrounding topics of sexuality and race. It aimed to break through societal stigmas surrounding Black gay sexuality, recognizing that true liberation cannot be achieved without overcoming shame. 

Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel

So Pretty (Jessica Dunn Rovinelli, 2019)

This daring act of meta-adaptation relocates an incomplete novel by Ronald M. Schernikau, a gay German writer from 1980s West Berlin, to Brooklyn in 2018. So Pretty revolves around the interconnected lives of a collective of transgender and genderqueer artists and activists. The film follows their relationships as they navigate the challenges of creating a utopian sanctuary amidst a progressively antagonistic world. With a blend of digital and 16mm footage, the movie captures an intimate, documentary-style portrayal. Within this tender narrative of love, literature, and communal strife, the film discovers truth and beauty through human connections.
So Pretty is distributed by our Director of Funds and Advocacy, Keisha Knight.

Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel

The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 1996)

When you think of unions, many instantly think of industrial jobs. But, unions afford protections to workers in any industry. Live Nude Girls Unite! is a testimony to this, as it documents the first union for exotic dancers in the United States. In this powerful and humorous first-person documentary, viewers follow a group of dancers at the Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco, who organize a union after enduring no sick leave, racist and sizist scheduling, arbitrary salary reductions and videotaping by customers. 

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Learn more about and support the Amazon Labor Union.

Memories of a Penitent Heart (Cecilia Aldarondo, 2016)

Filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo had a hunch that there was a dark secret in her family's history. In Memories of a Penitent Heart, she uncovers a long-concealed conflict involving her late uncle Miguel, who passed away when AIDS was heavily stigmatized. Years later, as she embarks on a quest to find Miguel's partner, the documentary delves into a powerful narrative that intertwines elements of love and homage. It serves as both a cautionary tale and a tribute, shedding light on how faith can be both a source of support and a tool for manipulation during times of crisis.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Learn more about and support the Amazon Labor Union.

Framing Agnes (Chase Joynt, 2022)

Agnes, a transgender woman who participated in Harold Garfinkel's gender health research at UCLA in the 1960s, has been an iconic figure in transgender history. However, her representation has often confined her experiences within a narrow framework. In "Framing Agnes," director Chase Joynt employs a rigorous blend of fiction and nonfiction to examine the limitations of Agnes' platform and expand the lens through which transgender history is understood. The film showcases a collective effort of re-imagination, with a talented cast of transgender stars who vividly reenact significant moments from the history of transgender healthcare.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Learn more about and support the Amazon Labor Union.

Paris Is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990)

Paris Is Burning is a renowned documentary that significantly influences contemporary drag culture. Set in 1980s New York City, the film delves into the lives of drag queens, showcasing their vibrant personalities, the formation of legendary houses, and their participation in extravagant fashion balls. While celebrating the artistry and creativity of the drag community, the documentary also addresses more profound subjects like poverty, racism, and the marginalization experienced by these performers in society. Its enduring impact is evident in its continued references and impact on popular culture today.

Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel

Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections (Wenhai Huang, 2017)

In this captivating portrayal, we witness the creative genius of Yves Saint Laurent, an iconic figure in Parisian haute couture. As he meticulously sketches the designs for his ultimate collection, a parallel narrative unfolds behind the scenes. Pierre Bergé, his trusted partner, orchestrates a series of events that aim to honor and elevate Yves Saint Laurent as a contemporary legend in the world of fashion. Through the fusion of artistic vision and meticulous planning, this documentary explores the remarkable journey of an extraordinary designer and the efforts taken to celebrate his enduring legacy as a modern myth.

Where to Watch: Apple TV

Learn more about and support the Apple Retail Workers Union.

Shakedown (Leilah Weinraub, 2018)

Shakedown chronicles the remarkable journey of a mobile black lesbian strip club that operated in Los Angeles for a span of eight years. Director Leilah Weinraub intends to capture the essence of a utopian moment by depicting the club's evolution from its inception to its eventual conclusion. The film creates a self-contained universe intricately molded by the desires and delights of its community. Shot with the affectionate lens of a personal home movie, "Shakedown" transports viewers into the vibrant and hypnotic atmosphere of the club, establishing an extraordinary intimacy with its diverse subjects. The documentary's tender approach conveys the pulsating energy and ethereal qualities that defined Shakedown and offer a captivating glimpse into a unique and often overlooked cultural space.

Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel