January 1, 2016

This has been a remarkable year for LGBTQ characters and stories in film and TV. From mainstream movies to independent films, major networks to cable outlets to new players in the TV arena like Netflix and Amazon, there are more opportunities than ever for LGBTQ stories to be told.

Here are just some of the highlights of a fantastic year!

Film

 

BOY MEETS GIRL. This indie romantic comedy--just nominated for a GLAAD media award for Outstanding Film (limited release)--focuses on the friendship between a trans girl and her straight-laced best friend. While telling a story about young love, friendship, and family, the film smashes through a variety of stereotypes: about gender, about sexuality, and even about family acceptance in the Southern United States (where the film takes place). The film also features a bold and beautiful performance by trans actress Michelle Hendley (whom director Eric Schaeffer discovered on YouTube!). The film, from Wolfe Releasing, can be found on demand on Amazon and Vimeo

CAROL. Directed by Todd Haynes and based on the novel The Price of Salt, by author Patricia Highsmith, this film was hailed universally as one of the best films of the last year, appearing on over 50 Top Ten film lists. Featuring beautiful performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (both Oscar nominated for their roles) it took 11 years to finally bring this LGBT love story to the screen. Clearly, it was worth the wait! The film can still be seen in theatres.

Moore and Page in FREEHELD

FREEHELD. Based on the Oscar-winning short documentary and adapted by the writer of PHILADELPHIA, this is the true story of Laurel Hester (played by Julianne Moore) and Stacie Andree (played by Ellen Page) and their fight for justice. When highly honored New Jersey police detective Laurel get a cancer diagnosis, she knows she wants to leave her pension to Stacie, her domestic partner. But county officials have other ideas. With a supporting turn by Steve Carrell as a local activist stepping in to provide support, the film boasts great performances and is a reminder of just how far we’ve come in the last year on the relationship recognition front. The film will soon be available on video on demand.

Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez

TANGERINE. This gritty indie tells the story of a transgender sex worker, her best friend, and their attempt to track down the former’s cheating boyfriend. Easily one of the most talked-about indie films of the year, TANGERINE boasts not one but two trans lead actresses, both of whom were discovered by the filmmaker while spending time at the Los Angeles LGBT center. Produced by indie favorites Jay and Mark Duplass (the latter of whom stars as brother Josh on Amazon’s TRANSPARENT), the film is notable not only for its authentic acting style and realistic writing, but also because of how it was brought to life: the film was made in three weeks on location in Hollywood, CA...and shot entirely on three iPhone 5s smartphones. The film can be seen on iTunes, Amazon, and more.

Television

The many faces of Tatiana Maslany

ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America). It’s hard to imagine that a Canadian sci-fi series about a series of clones could have so much to say about personal identity, including gender and sexuality...and yet ORPHAN BLACK does just that. Set to begin its fourth season in April of this year, the show centers on a group of clones, all portrayed by actress Tatiana Maslany, who was only recently (finally!) honored with an Emmy nomination for her multiple roles on the show. The best part? The show includes (self-referenced) queer characters...without that being, and we quote, “the most interesting thing” about them. And ORPHAN BLACK includes an array of characters across a spectrum of sexuality and gender: Straight, gay, queer, androgynous, trans...it’s all in there, and the show is better for its exciting, yet completely human, diversity.

At the 2015 PFLAG National Straight for Equality Gala,  the Prancing Elites walked the red carpet with TRANSPARENT  producer (and gala honoree) Jill Soloway and  cast member Hari Nef

THE PRANCING ELITES PROJECT (Oxygen). As you may have seen on our Facebook page or read in our Twitter feed, we’ve been proud partners and supporters of this fantastic docuseries from Oxygen. Now in its second season, the series follows the Prancing Elites, a dance team comprised of five, African-American, gay and gender non-expansive people from Mobile, Alabama. In the face of adversity, living in a place where acceptance for them is minimal, they remain their authentic selves and support each other, even when few others do. And even though many are quick to judge a show in the reality realm, this show tells a story focused on queer people of color, and tells it though their own lens - a huge accomplishment in itself. That it’s as entertaining as it is just puts the icing on this fabulous cake!

SENS8 (Netflix) Created by the Wachowski siblings (one of whom, Lana, came out as trans several years ago), this series explores themes of gender, sexuality, and identity through the story of a group of people--sensates--each of whom has special powers, and all of whom are being tracked and hunted by a powerful organization. The show is intense, visual, vibrant, mysterious--we would expect no less from the siblings who brought us THE MATRIX series--but also, ultimately, an exploration of the gray areas of being human, and how much better off we all might be if we could keep open minds and hearts about our differences.

TRANSPARENT (Amazon) This show--whose creator/producer Jill Soloway we honored at last year’s Straight for Equality awards (when Soloway still identified as an ally, before coming out as queer just a few months ago, image above)--continues to break new ground in its second critically acclaimed season. Starring Jeffrey Tambor (who, over the last year, has become a fierce trans ally) and longtime ally Judith Light, TRANSPARENT tells the story of the Pfefferman family — neurotic mom Shelly, transgender “moppa” Maura, and their three adult children. This season, the exploration goes even deeper, as we get flashbacks of the Pfefferman’s ancestry in Berlin in 1933 (featuring the lovely trans actress and model Hari Nef), and how we carry the traumas of our history into our present.

Special Mentions

HER STORY (Web Series) A first-of-its-kind series, HER STORY tackles the kind of material covering the lives of women who are trans...as only women who are trans could truly tell them. Executive produced by VAGINA MONOLOGUES creator Eve Ensler, the creative team includes a trans director (Sydney Freeland), and stars trans writer/co-creator Jen Richards (founder of the website We Happy Trans and of the Trans 100), queer writer/co-creator Laura Zak, and Angelica Ross, actress and founder of TransTech Social Enterprises. The full first season, six episodes in all, is now available on the website at herstory.com. Click through to read a terrific in-depth piece on the series from Buzzfeed.

MASTER OF NONE (Netflix) While this show--conceived, written by, and starring PARKS AND RECREATION favorite Aziz Ansari--doesn’t specifically tackle LGBTQ issues, we couldn’t leave it out, as it does tackle the entire issue of diversity in smart, creative, new, and hilariously funny ways. Centered around Ansari, playing a less-famous version of himself, the series looks at everything from diversity in dating, to Indian representation in television, to first-generation immigrants raising their millennial children. Bonus: Ansari’s real-life parents play his character’s parents on the show, making for one of the funniest--and most touching--episodes of the 10-episode first season. Click through to read an essay by Ansari on his experience making that episode. If you haven’t seen it yet, we highly recommend you start your binge watching now!

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