Top 10 LGBTQ+ Documentaries You Need to Watch



Top 10 LGBTQ+ Documentaries You Need to Watch

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Savannah Sher
These are the LGBTQ documentaries you need to watch. Our countdown includes "Before Stonewell," "Kiki," "The Queen," and more!

Top 10 LGBTQ Documentaries You Need to Watch

Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 LGBTQ+ Documentaries You Need To Watch.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most groundbreaking and essential films in the genre.

How many of these have you seen? Let us know in the comments!

#10: “Bridegroom” (2013)

This film boasts being the most funded documentary in Kickstarter history. It received even more clout when it was introduced at the Tribeca Film Festival by former President Bill Clinton. “Bridegroom” tells the story of Shane Bitney Crone, a man who found himself lacking in support and legal resources after the death of his partner of six years. Crone and Thomas Lee "Tom" Bridegroom had been together for six years, and yet Crone was not even permitted to attend his funeral. It’s a heartbreaking look at a relationship and shows the hardship that LGBTQ+ couples have usually faced when it comes to the legality of their partnerships.

#9: “Before Stonewall” (1985)

The Stonewall Riots are largely considered the major pivotal point in American LGBTQ+ rights, but sometimes all of the work that took place beforehand gets forgotten. “Before Stonewall” focuses specifically on this issue, looking at activism from closer to the beginning of the 20th century. With interviews with figures like Allen Ginsberg, Eveyln Hooker and Ann Bannon, this documentary explores a historical period that isn’t traditionally considered to be key in the history of the movement. The film took home two Emmy awards, for Best Historical/Cultural Program and Best Research.

#8: “Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen” (2020)

This 2020 documentary is one of the newest films on our list, and focuses specifically on the topic of transgender represention in media. Looking at how Hollywood portrays trans characters, it explores how these portrayals have influenced the broader cultural mindset. Sam Feder produced and directed the documentary, which features commentary from prominent figures such as Laverne Cox, Susan Stryker, Alexandra Billings, Jamie Clayton, and Chaz Bono. “Disclosure” has a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is available to stream on Netflix so there’s no excuse not to give it a watch!

#7: “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine” (2014)

The murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepherd made headlines in the late ‘90s and opened up discussions of homophobic hate crimes in the United States. But although much of the story was sensationalized in the media, a friend of Matthew’s, Michele Josue wanted to show the world the young man behind the story. “Matt Shepard is A Friend of Mine” is an emotional look at Matt Shepherd’s life before it was taken away from him by this hateful act of violence, as well as how his friends and family have coped since.

#6: “Kiki” (2016)

The LGBTQ+ community has faced so much hardship over the years, that documentaries on the topic can tend to be heavy and difficult to watch. 2016’s “Kiki” is one major exception. Focusing on New York’s drag and voguing scene, and African American drag ball culture, this film is a sort of unofficial sequel to “Paris is Burning” (more on that later), Sara Jordenö’s film shows the joy and brightness that this community can bring to LGBTQ+ youth who may be otherwise struggling. Set within the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, this film is both political and genuinely optimistic.

#5: “The Queen” (1968)

If “Kiki” is a kind of followup to “Paris is Burning”, then “The Queen” is a precursor. This film is an illuminating look at the drag scene of the 1960s, focusing primarily on New York’s Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest. While the contestants are preparing to compete, we see the various queens discussing the issues that were important to the community at the time, like gender identity and gender confirmation surgeries. Despite the fact that this documentary was created more than half a century ago, it still feels pertinent today.

#4: “How to Survive a Plague” (2012)

This film by David France takes a deep dive into the beginnings of the AIDS crisis, following some of the activists working to seek out treatments for the epidemic. Using hundreds of hours of archival footage, France pieces together a history of ACT UP, an organization created to push the American government to allocate more resources to treating and curing HIV. It explores their conflicts with the FDA and pharmaceutical industry; and watching the film now feels surprisingly timely, considering the comparisons that have been made between AIDS and the COVID-19 pandemic.

#3: “The Celluloid Closet” (1995)

Despite the fact that this film was released in the mid-’90s, it’s still considered to be the preeminent work exploring LGBTQ+ representation in Hollywood. Looking at the tropes and stereotypes that define queer characters, and how things have changed over the years, “The Celluloid Closet” tracks the evolution of sexual diversity on screen. It looks at how the Hays Code altered the freedoms that were afforded to LGBTQ+, characters as well as how depictions have progressed in recent years. We’d love to see an updated version on this concept exploring the 21st century!

#2: “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” (2017)

Director David France is back on our list with the 2017 film “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”. Telling the story of this trans gay rights activist’s life and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, this documentary takes decades-old issues and makes them relevant to the current social climate. Johnson’s death was ruled a suicide despite evidence to the contrary, and this is a phenomenon which has long plagued the LGBTQ+ community and is still an ongoing issue. The film also focuses on Johnson’s integral role in the Stonewall Riots, and is available to stream on Netflix.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“A Secret Love” (2020)
A Lesbian Love Story That Remained a Secret for Decades

“The Brandon Teena Story” (1998)
The True Story Behind “Boys Don't Cry”

“Queens at Heart” (1967)
A Series of Interviews With Four Trans Women

“We Were Here” (2011)
A Look at the AIDS Crisis in San Francisco

“Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts” (2019)
A Portrait of Drag Queen Trixie Mattel

#1: “Paris Is Burning” (1990)

This film has already merited several mentions on our list because it is perhaps the most influential and well-known LGBTQ+ documentary of all time. Examining what has become known as the “golden age” of ball culture in New York, Jennie Livingston’s film delves into the African American and Latino drag scene in the city. Though its focus may be niche, it takes the subject and places it in the broader cultural spectrum to explore issues relevant both in 1990 and today. It’s a classic, and you should be sure to add this to your “to watch” list if you haven’t already seen it.