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Paris is Burning, Black LGBTQ Movies.
Photo courtesy of Janus Films.

The 15 Best Black LGBTQ Movies

From Moonlight to Paris is Burning, these films aren’t just some of the best Black LGBTQ movies out there, but some of the best LGBTQ movies in general.

There is no doubt that when one thinks of LGBTQ movies, they think of films like Brokeback Mountain or Portrait of a Lady on Fire. While seminal to the foundations of modern queer cinema, these films are not the end-all be-all. Rather than stopping at films showcasing stories focusing on white people, queer movies are actually really diverse, filled with stories that proceeded — and continue — to move on from films like Dog Day Afternoon and Carol.

Black queer cinema, while sometimes not even directed by Black filmmakers, exudes something else entirely from what the standard form of these films usually looks like. They’re often languid in pace, stretching time in ways that are experimental and complex. They allow their characters and subjects to bask in the act of simply being, their selfhood tethered to their race and sexuality but not bound or confined by it.

While some of these films have been hailed as masterpieces, many of them have gone relatively unseen. So, there is no better time to celebrate them than during Pride month. Here are the 15 best Black LGBTQ movies.

Pariah (2011)

Pariah (2011) Official HD Movie

Available to rent on: Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video

This film follows the young Alike, daughter of a police officer and an extremely religious mother, as she attempts to come of age within the bounds of her home life. She discovers her burgeoning queerness in such an authentic way, her typical tomboyness soon exploding into a tender first love with the daughter of one of her mother’s church friends. Though only opening in select theaters upon its release, Pariah has since claimed the hearts of many, even garnering a Criterion release.

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

The Watermelon Woman Trailer (1996)

Available to stream on: Paramount+

Directed by Cheryl Dunye, The Watermelon Woman tells the story of a young black woman working in a video store who becomes obsessed with a mysterious actress from the 1930s, known only as "the Watermelon Woman.” Dunye’s feature debut touches on the erasure of queer and Black women from mainstream media, and the importance of preserving and documenting their stories. It’s a masterful work of independent filmmaking, even being selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Shakedown (2018)


Available to stream on: Criterion Channel, official Shakedown website

In this raw and intimate documentary, director Leilah Weinraub documents the lives of queer Black women in Los Angeles who were part of a strip club scene from 2002 to its closure by police in 2004. Despite Weinraub originally beginning shooting in 2002, Shakedown wasn’t released until 2018 when it premiered at the Berlinale Film Festival. The documentary is as tantalizing as its poster (a woman gasping in elation in front of a bright red backdrop), and became the first non-pornographic film to be released on Pornhub.

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

I Am Not Your Negro - Official

Available to stream on: Amazon Prime Video, Hulu

Perhaps the best documentary about America’s most influential Black queer writer, I Am Not Your Negro uses James Baldwin’s unfinished novel to capture his influence and life. Though going into production and being released decades after Baldwin’s death, the film fiercely tackles the idea of race in America, all the while showcasing Baldwin’s feelings toward the death of his friends like Malcolm X. It’s a documentary that proves just why James Baldwin was so influential at the time, and remains so in our modern age.

The Aggressives (2005)

The Aggressives (Trailer)

Available to stream on: Kanopy, Tubi

This low-budget documentary follows a series of lesbian studs and trans men in New York City, who juggle their identities with other aspects of their lives over a period of five years. Each cast member is wholly unique and charming, allowing the doc to feel intimate and like you’re catching up with an old friend. In a time where Black lesbians and trans people are severely underrepresented, The Aggressives is an underrated must-watch. From clubbing to the struggles of the prison industrial complex, director Eric Daniel Peddle tackles all aspects of these subjects’ lives, portraying them not as stereotypes but as fleshed-out individuals trying to make space for themselves in the world.

Tongues Untied (1989)

Tongues Untied

Available to stream on: Kanopy

Described as an experimental documentary, Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied is as cheeky as it is poignant. Proceeding iconic documentaries like Paris is Burning, Tongues Untied cuts from sequence to sequence, never allowing you to sit still with the image — or messages — on the screen. Poetry clashes with music, and music with footage of the film's subjects jesting with one another, birthing an essential look at Black queer life of the 1980s.

Paris is Burning (1990)

Paris Is Burning | 'House Mothers' (HD) |

Available to stream on: Criterion Channel, Max

This iconic 1990 documentary allowed viewers an inside look at New York City’s ballroom scene in the 1980s. Shot over the span of many years, the film features testimonials from women like Venus Xtravaganza, as well as various lessons on ballroom culture. The film paints an intimate portrait of the scene and its members, driving home the importance of their chosen families and memorializing many of the fallen subjects on screen forever.

Tangerine (2015)

Tangerine - Red Band

Available to stream on: Max

While initially gaining fame because it was shot on an iPhone — something that was rare in 2015 — Tangerine has withstood its initial reputation and proved to be an essential addition to the Black queer cinematic canon. The film follows Sin-Dee and Alexandra, two trans women who engage in sex work. After being released from prison, Sin-Dee learns that her boyfriend (and pimp) has cheated on her with a cis woman. This sparks a revenge-fueled mission not lacking in humor and heart, proving that when helmed by the right person, empathetic films about Black queer life can still be made.

Rafiki (2018)

'Rafiki' - Official Trailer (Exclusive)

Available to stream on: Kanopy

A sweet and vibrant spin on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Rafiki follows two young women whose fathers are running against each other in a mayoral race. The film's vibrant colors match an equally boisterous soundtrack, making for a rare, feel-good Black queer film. While the film was initially banned in Kenya, director Wanuri Kahiu argued that the ban was unconstitutional and filed a lawsuit, resulting in the ban being lifted for a week-long theater run.

Passing (2021)

Passing | Official Trailer |

Available to stream on: Netflix

Though the central tension between Irene and Clare seems to be about race, there’s an underlying tension between the two women that goes — mostly — unspoken throughout the film. Gazes are allowed to linger for far too long and glances are made through crowds of people, making sure the audience knows that these two women cannot keep their eyes off each other. Their friendship almost feels psychosexual as they both long for what the other has in their life and, perhaps, long for each other as well.

Set It Off (1996)

Set It Off Trailer

Available to stream on: Tubi

While not specifically helmed as a queer film, Set It Off features a fantastic performance from Queen Latifah as Cleo, a Black lesbian. The film follows four Black women who plan to rob a bank, each with their own unique motivation and experience. It’s as action-packed as it is devastating, and a wonderful 90s flick to watch during Pride month.

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

Daughters of the Dust (2K Restoration) | Official US

Available to stream on: Mubi

Expansive in the openness of its direction and its set design, Daughters of the Dust isn’t just an essential Black queer film, but an essential queer film in general. The film follows a multi-generational family of former West African slaves in South Carolina, particularly focused on Yellow Mary. Though not stated in a way that would be common in a film of this decade, her family doesn't seem fond of their relationship. Still, our main character remains unabashed in her love. Director Julie Dash allows Yellow Mary and her companion to simmer in their queerness, sharing lingering gazes at the ocean and with one another as well.

Black is…Black Ain't (1994)

Black Is...Black Ain't

Available to stream on: Kanopy

In what would be documentarian Marlon Riggs' final film, the artist utilizes aspects of what made Tongues Untied so powerful, and adds to it tenfold. Black Is…Black Ain't celebrates the intersections of being Black, and urges viewers to understand that, despite what we may think, there is no correct way to be Black. Again, Riggs blends interviews and poetry with his own testimonials, using this documentary not only as an educational tool but a goodbye, as he was dying of AIDS at the time of production.

Dirty Computer (2018)

Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer [Emotion Picture]

Available to stream on: Janelle Monae’s official YouTube channel

While they’re known for their draw to visions of Afrofuturism, there is perhaps no more a futuristic project than Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer. The film weaves music videos for each song on Monae’s Dirty Computer album with interludes featuring a sci-fi story about a woman named Jane, who lives in a futuristic world where humans are called computers. The project features Janelle Monae as Jane and Tessa Thompson as Zen, a woman who allows Jane to break free of her trapped state. With this project, Monae envisions the ultimate utopia: one where Black queer people are able to thrive and celebrate their existence.

Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight | Official Trailer HD |

Streaming on: Kanopy, Tubi

Famed for its last-minute Best Picture win at the 2017 Oscars, Moonlight has withstood the test of time. Barry Jenkins’ seminal film focusing on the shy Chiron feels fresh seven years later. As the story follows Chiron through three eras of his life, the Moonlight movie draws you in like the Miami tide, encapsulating your emotions and mirroring them with Chiron’s singular experience. Slick cinematography is paired with Nicholas Britell’s breakout score to effectively create one of the best LGBTQ movies of all time.

Kaiya Shunyata is a freelance pop culture writer and academic based in Canada. Their work has appeared in, Xtra, The Daily Beast, AltPress and more.