10 Documentaries About Being Black and Queer in America

Educate yourself.

It has been more than a week since the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd’s killing—and the untimely deaths of countless other Black Americans, including Tony McDade of Florida and Breonna Taylor of Kentucky—have prompted protests against racism and police brutality nationwide.

With many waking up to the injustices Black people have experienced in the centuries since this nation’s founding, here is a list of 10 documentaries about being Black and queer in America. Non-Black queer folks—it’s time to start educating yourself about anti-racism if you haven’t already.

  1. Tongues Untied (1991)

    When Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied premiered on PBS in July 1991, it courted controversy with conservative politicians and pundits, who were outraged that public money was used to fund a work that indicted majority culture, and particularly the treatment of Black gay people, and that depicted nudity and gay male sex. But Riggs’ film, aided by the intensely personal spoken-word poetry of Essex Hemphill, cannot be underestimated: It took on rampant racist and homophobic ideologies in our country with a radical and satirical viewpoint, and addressed the scourge of the AIDS epidemic.

  2. Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen (2008)

    Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen, Kortney Ryan Ziegler’s groundbreaking documentary from ’08, is presented as a collection of six short black-and-white films, which “challenges traditional notions of Black masculinity, sexuality, and identity.” In 2017, Darnell Moore wrote for NewNowNext on how, to his knowledge, it was “the only film focused on the lives of Black trans men.”

  3. The New Black (2015)

    Filmmaker Yoruba Richen’s award-winning 2015 documentary explores how the gay marriage movement in Maryland shined a light on homophobia within the Black community and the Black church. The Hollywood Reporter called it a “thoughtful examination of socially conservative, church-based traditions responding to voices of reform, many of them arising within churchgoing families.”

  4. Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice Mapping a Detroit Story (2015)

    Directed by Dream Hampton, this 2015 doc chronicles the life and murder of Shelly “Treasure” Hilliard, a 19-year-old trans woman from Detroit. Pridesource said Treasure details Hilliard’s story “while interweaving a narrative of the biases faced by many trans women today. The film is unpolished but full of a grit that seems naturally complementary to the dark story it tells.”

  5. Free Cece (2016)

    In 2011, CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman of color, was charged with second-degree murder after fighting back against an assailant attacking her and her friends. After accepting a plea bargain of second-degree manslaughter, she spent the next 19 months in a men’s prison, where she was frequently placed in solitary confinement (supposedly for her own protection). Filmmaker Jacqueline Gares (In the Life) chronicles McDonald’s struggle, as well as the day she was released in 2014.

  6. Jewel’s Catch One (2016)

    Jewel’s Catch One is a documentary that shines a light on the legacy of one of America’s oldest Black and queer-owned discos, and the life of its owner, entrepreneur and activist Jewel Thais-Williams. Her story and the importance of her nightclub is only just now being written into history after closing its doors on July 18, 2015, but Thais-Williams is credited for creating safe spaces for queer, Black, and AIDS impacted communities in Los Angeles for over 40 years while facing racism and gender discrimination.

  7. The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

    Marsha P. Johnson played a pivotal role in the Stonewall riots back in 1969, but her untimely death left the LGBTQ community convinced she was murdered. More than 25 years after her body was found floating in the Hudson River, this 2017 Netflix documentary explores the trans activist’s legacy, as well as the mystery surrounding the end of her life. Directed by Oscar-nominated documentarian David France, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson follows trans activist Victoria Cruz as she attempts to uncover the truth about what happened to her former friend, while celebrating her accomplishments and contributions to the LGBT movement.

  8. Check It (2017)

    This critically acclaimed film, directed by Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer, chronicles the D.C. gang of the same name that has rallied together for protection and support. The themes of the doc are both universal and specific to young queer people of color living in one of the worst parts of D.C.: Check It has nearly 200 members, most of whom make money “committing crimes like petty theft, robbery, and carjacking,” according to Flor. They’re trying to turn things around—to turn away from violence and crime—but it’s not easy.

  9. I Am Not Your Negro (2017)

    One of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, Baldwin articulated the problem of race in America better than probably anyone ever or since. And he was unapologetically gay—his 1956 novel, Giovanni’s Room, was a masterpiece of queer literature. The 2017 documentary revives Baldwin’s genius for cultural analysis and critique in a time when it is needed more than ever: Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro seeks to recreate Baldwin’s last, unfinished work: a project called “Remember This House,” chronicling the lives of his slain friends, civil-rights activists Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

  10. Neon (2020)

    Earlier this year, GLAAD launched Neon, a digital documentary series aimed at highlighting Black LGBTQ lives.

    “We hope to help shift the narratives of underrepresented communities in media, especially for the Black LGBTQ community and their allies,” said DaShawn Usher, GLAAD’s programs officer, communities of color, and producer of Neon. “With an increase in violence and murders of Black trans women, LGBTQ youth suicides, and a decrease in LGBTQ acceptance, Neon comes at a time when it’s absolutely critical to showcase diverse, fair, and accurate representations of Black LGBTQ people within the media.”

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