8. Better Than Chocolate (1998)
If you ever find yourself feeling worn down by The Man or hostile straight people in your world, and you just really need to indulge in completely stereotypical lesbo-isms, you’re due for a viewing of the Canadian Better Than Chocolate. There’s a gay bookstore! A van with a naked lady painted on the side! Body painting! Lots of sex! Transexuals! And lots of folky female singer-songwriters singing in the background!
9. Paris Is Burning (1990)
Documenting the drag ball scene of New York City in the 1980s that created voguing before Madonna spread it to the entire world, I’m breaking a few of my own rules with this documentary, but I have reasons. The rules it breaks: It’s not strictly about lesbians. The ending includes a really awful tragedy. And so much of the film is rooted in pain and discrimination. But here’s why I’m including it: Out of the pain and discrimination, there is joy. What I find so inspiring in this film is the astounding sense of community and family it shows. The amazing individuals interviewed here have literally created their own families, which they call houses, after being rejected from their original ones. The love from a house mother is as real as any biological mother love. Since Pride to me is all about community, this will always be my #1 Pride film. And importantly, what this film also actually truly discusses best isn’t just sexuality and gender (although gender is in fact much more the focus than sexuality), but how both poverty and race play into all of it — two issues that affect the queer world so much that still aren’t talked about enough. Every time I watch this, and I have watched it a lot, I like it more. It’s not just my favorite documentary, it’s one of my favorite films, period.
10. Maedchen in Uniform (1931)
Maybe this seems like a strange choice. You may have never heard of it. It’s extremely hard to find a good copy of, although thankfully, decent clips are available on YouTube. But this deserves a place on this list because it was one of, if not the, first lesbian movie with a happy ending. And it’s from 1931! From Germany right before World War II! The history of this movie is absolutely fascinating. Taking place in a harsh boarding school, it deals with the obsessive love a student, Manuela, feels for one of her teachers, Fraulein von Bernburg, feelings that are obviously reciprocated from sexy, compassionate Bernburg. This isn’t just lesbian subtext here — the glances and the touches this young woman and her teacher exchange are some of the most sensual things I’ve ever seen on film. (There was apparently a re-make done in Germany after the war, but I heard the sensual times were played way down. So if you’re not watching it in black and white, you’re not watching the right one.) It also rails against the fascism and oppression that is so often the norm in education and society at large when it comes to children. Essentially, it apparently offended the Nazis on multiple levels. It was banned in both Germany and the United States until Eleanor Roosevelt, the best woman we’ve ever had on our side in the White House, helped lift the ban in the US. The New York Times then went on to name it the best film of the year.
This film can so easily be compared to one that came out in the US 30 years later, the star-studded The Children’s Hour with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. (Spoilers ahead!) While the lesbianism in the Children’s Hour occurs between two teachers as opposed to a teacher and a student, both take place at boarding schools in a earlier era. The lesbianism is eventually found out and perceived as a dangerous threat in both movies. Yet how they’re dealt with is vastly different. The Children’s Hour ends in suicide and isolation. Yet in Madchen in Uniform, while Manuela literally faces the same decision MacLaine did, in the end the entire school rallies around her and saves her. Leaves one with a bit of a different sensation about the consequences of being gay, doesn’t it?
With the tumult of the war, it’s amazing that this film has survived at all. But there are still bits which never made it past the Nazis and the censors, which are lost to time forever. Imagine the touching and glances we’re missing!
What did I miss? What are your favorite happy movies that help give you pride throughout the year?