There was a time when Hollywood and international film industries were just dominated by cisgender and heterosexual (mostly male) filmmakers. Hence, if such directors picked up diverse narratives, the dominant viewpoint was more than often from their gaze. Towards the latter years of the previous century up till now, a change is being brought about with not just narratives beyond the cisgender and heterosexual binaries but also more directors from LGBTQ+ communities helming these films.
The Wachowskis, Pedro Almodóvar, Jodie Foster, Gus Van Sant, Dee Rees. These are just a few names of well-established directors from the LGBTQ+ spectrum who are diversifying cinema and garnering acclaim.
10 Dee Rees
Dee Rees started her directorial career with a highly promising debut, the coming-of-age drama Pariah. Partly inspired by her own life, Pariah starred Adepero Oduye as a 17-year-old coming to terms with her sexual identity. Her sophomore effort was the HBO movie Bessie, a biopic on the legendary Blues singer and bisexual icon Bessie Smith. The Queen Latifah-starred project earned an Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie furthering Rees’ career.
This success continued with the historical drama Mudbound, a post-World War II saga depicting the lives of two Black and white war veterans as they readjust to American society. Addressing both racism and PTSD, Mudbound received rave reviews and earned Rees an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
9 Gus Van Sant
A distinct icon of the New Queer Cinema movement, Gus Van Sant has constantly experimented with his narratives. He has helmed heartwarming dramas like Good Will Hunting while also handling darker stories like Elephant. He has proven his mettle in the biopic genre with Milk and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot.
His experiments with adapted material also yield interesting results. While Van Sant’s My Private Idaho is a fresh and moving retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V, his remake of Psycho proved to be a professional misfire. Today, the former is considered a landmark work of gay cinema and continues to be one of his most beloved films.
8 Cheryl Dunye
Another monumental figure from the aforementioned New Queer Cinema wave was Cheryl Dunye who marked her presence with her magnum opus The Watermelon Woman. The film also stars Dunye as a woman balancing her video store job and her attempts at making a film about a Black actress who was subjected to stereotypical roles in the 1930s. Reputed for its satirical overtones, The Watermelon Woman holds the distinction of being the first feature film to be directed by a Black lesbian woman.
Dunye is also associated with several short films exploring socio-political themes around race and gender, along with directing episodes for shows like Dear White People and Lovecraft County.
7 Ryan Murphy
Over the years, Ryan Murphy has established himself as a titan in the world of TV and streaming services. As a film director, he has had a moderate run with Eat, Pray, Love, and The Prom. But when it comes to writing and direct television series, Murphy has brought about a change in popular storytelling to focus on more LGBTQ+ characters.
He served as showrunner for Glee, American Horror Story, Feud, American Crime Story, Pose, and The Politician. Such is his influence that the six-time Emmy winner linked the largest development deal in all of television history when he signed a $300 million contract with Netflix.
6 The Wachowskis
Lana and Lilly Wachowski revolutionized sci-fi and action filmmaking with The Matrix, a modern epic that will always be remembered for its philosophical storyline and trailblazing stuntwork. The film’s two sequels along with their other features like Cloud Atlas and Speed Racer have garnered mixed responses. Still, there are viewers and critics who have garnered a cult following around the latter two.
Both siblings have also created and directed episodes for the heavily acclaimed sci-fi drama series Sense8. The Netflix show mainly revolves around eight different individuals from all over the world who develop a psychic connection and unearth a larger mystery behind their origin. Both siblings are trans women.
5 Pedro Almodóvar
A leading voice in Spanish cinema, Pedro Almodóvar has delivered several critical successes most of which star his regular collaborators, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. Since the ’80s, he has explored many genres while writing stories on themes of political and sexual freedom. Some of his most famous black comedies include Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and All About My Mother. On the other hand, The Skin I Live In and Broken Embraces display his mastery over the thriller genre.
Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory brings out a semi-autobiographical narrative through which he interprets his career, internal troubles, and sexuality.
4 Yance Ford
Having worked under PBS for a decade, Yance Ford has considerable experience in the industry. His filmmaking prowess can be seen with the documentary Strong Island. Based on the actual murder of his brother at the hands of a 19-year-old white mechanic, Ford’s film reveals the biases of the justice system towards the marginalized. Despite a clear case of murder, the grand jury still let go of the killer agreeing to his self-defense plea.
Strong Island was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2018 Oscars making Ford the first openly transgender man to be nominated for an Oscar. Ford also holds the distinction for being the first openly transgender filmmaker to win a Creative Arts Emmy.
3 John Waters
One of the earliest openly gay directors, John Waters boasts a prolific body of work, most of which includes iconic musicals and cult comedies. He started his career with comedy horrors like Pink Flamingos and Multiple Maniacs. The ’80s saw him write and direct Hairspray that found further popularity as a Broadway musical and a 2007 remake by Adam Shankman.
Waters continued his streak of dark comedy films with cult classics like Cry-Baby and Serial Mom. Additionally, Waters is also a successful visual artist and occasional actor having played himself in shows like The Blacklist and The Simpsons.
2 Lisa Cholodenko
When it comes to films, Lisa Cholodenko’s most popular directorial feature has to be 2010’s The Kids Are All Right. The comedy-drama is important with regards to being one of the first mainstream films to show a lesbian couple raising two teenagers.
Cholodenko’s other drama films include Laurel Canyon and High Art. However, recently, she has found further acclaim in the miniseries format, directing several episodes for Emmy nominees like Netflix’s Unbelievable and HBO’s Olive Kitteridge.
1 Lee Daniels
In the world of TV, Lee Daniels is perhaps best known as the co-creator of the musical drama series Empire. He also directed the pilot and a few other episodes for the same. As a film director, Daniels’ most acclaimed film is Precious, the 2009 adaptation of Sapphire’s novel Push.
Boasting stunning lead performances from Mo’nique and Gabourey Sidibe, the film received six Oscar nominations with Daniels getting in for Best Director and Best Picture. Other than Precious, he’s known for the biopics The Butler and The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
NEXT: 10 Times Trans Actors Actually Played Trans Characters
10 Movies That Inspired Harry Potter (& Where To Watch Them)
About The Author