12 Lesbian & Bi-Themed Films Based on True Stories

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Freeheld is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival this  Sunday, and will hit theaters nationwide on October 2nd. The film, starring Ellen Page and Julianne Moore, is based on the true story of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree, a police officer and her domestic partner, respectively, who fought for equality when their local government sought to deny Stacie access to Laurel’s pension. The situation was dire, as Laurel had a very serious and progressive cancer that caused her untimely death a month after the New Jersey county freeholders finally agreed to extend pension benefits to registered domestic partners.

Laurel and Stacie’s story was first told in an Oscar-winning short documentary called Freeheld, and it took a few years and pushing on behalf of Ellen Page and high-powered lesbian publicist Kelly Bush, but eventually, it made its way into the highly anticipated feature film we can see this fall.

Laurel and Stacie in “Freeheld”freeheld-doc

Some of the best LGBT stories come out of real life situations, and Freeheld is certainly not the first lesbian-themed film that falls into that category. Several other biopics and fictionalized accounts of true events are available for your viewing and learning pleasure, so here are some from the recent past.

Heavenly Creatures (1994)heavenly-creatures

Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet star as Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, teenage best friends turned lovers who murdered Pauline’s (Melanie) mother in 1954. Peter Jackson directed the thriller based on the New Zealand-based murder case, which has inspired a few novels as well. IRL, both women spent only five years in prison and, today, Juliet is an author under the name Anne Perry.

Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story (1995)serving-in-silence

Glenn Close took on the role of Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, a decorated soldier who was forced into retirement under the military’s gay exclusion policy. Margarethe, a member of the National Guard, refused to hide that she was a lesbian and she was dishonorably discharged in 1992. The TV movie was based on Margarethe’s biography and won three Emmys, a GLAAD Award and a Peabody.

I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)i-shot-andy-warhol

In one of her first queer roles, Lili Taylor played real life lesbian and radical feminist Valerie Solanas who was infamous for attempting to kill pop artist and celebrity Andy Warhol in 1968. Feminist filmmaker Mary Harron directed the indie, which was produced by Christine Vachon and Killer Films and won Lili a Special Recognition for Outstanding Performance Award at Sundance. Valerie, who passed away in ’88, has inspired three plays, several songs and a semi-fictionalized book.

Gia (1998)gia

Angelina Jolie won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the queer supermodel who died of AIDS-related complications in 1996. In 2003, a documentary, The Self-Destruction of Gia, detailed even more about the model, including home movies and photos, and interviews with those who knew Gia Carangi best.

Aimée & Jaguar (1999)aimee-jaguar

Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim were lovers during World Ward II, and their story was first told in a book by Erica Fischer before being turned into a documentary (Love Story: Berlin 1942) and then this feature film. The name is based on the pseudonyms the women took on in order protect themselves, but (spoiler alert) it does not have a happy ending. Lilly Wust shared letters and her account of the relationship for the original book, and lived in Berlin until passing away at 92 in 2006.

Frida (2002)frida

Salma Hayek stars as the world-famous, heavily influential bisexual artist in Julie Taymor‘s Academy Award-winning biopic. Although Frida’s relationships with women are less focused on than her marriage to Diego Rivera, Ashley Judd makes a special appearance as photographer Tina Modotti, and joins Salma in an erotic tango.

 

Monster (2003)monster

Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, a woman whose sex work turned deadly when she began murdering her johns and went on the run with her girlfriend, Selby (based on Aileen’s real life partner Tyria Moore). If you like dramatic thrillers and aren’t too squeamish (it gets violent), you’ll be wowed by Charlize’s work in the tragic retelling.

The Runaways (2010)runaways-movie

The first all-girl band to make waves worldwide, The Runaways cycled through several members in their all-too-brief career, so Floria Sigismondi‘s take only shares one perspective. Kristen Stewart swaggers around as Joan Jett, sharing a well-documented kiss with Dakota Fanning as Cherie Curie, but otherwise there’s not a ton of queer content. A 2004 doc, Edgeplay, offers up more background, as does the more recent biography, Queens of Noise from Evelyn McDonnell

Reaching for the Moon (2013)reaching-for-the-moon

American poet Elizabeth Bishop spent several years of her life in Brazil with her lover Lota de Macedo Soares, which is the focus of the film based on the book Flores Raras e Banalíssimas (Rare and Commonplace Flowers). Miranda Otto stars as Elizabeth, and the scenery is beautiful, but if you are interested in learning more about Elizabeth, Barbara Hammer‘s new documentary might be more up your alley.

Violette (2013)violette

Emmanuelle Devos stars as Violette Leduc, a bisexual French author who penned the lesbian-themed love story Thérèse and Isabelle (also a film, and available on Netflix.) Violette pushed sexual boundaries in her work, and was encouraged by friend Simone de Beauvoir, who Violette is in love with but, as shown in the film, it remains unrequited.

Pride (2014)pride

Although the film focuses on a group of mostly gay men who were supporting the striking mining community in 1980s Britain, director Matthew Warchus made sure to include at least a few lesbians among them, most importantly Faye Marsay as real life LGSM member Stephanie Chambers. The BAFTA-nominated film was enjoyed by fans and critics alike, and pulled from the real stories of lesbians and gay men who helped form a special supportive union between a small, straight Wales town and a group of London queers.  

Bessie (2015)bessie

Dee Rees is at the helm of HBO’s Emmy-nominated biopic about legendary bisexual blues singer Bessie SmithQueen Latifah stars alongside Mo’Nique as Ma Rainey with a script loosely based on the 1975 biography Bessie: Empress of the Blues. A lot of the story is imagined, but based on likely situations and real people.

 

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