In any normal year, fall would be the time for us to look ahead and get a rundown on all the LGBTQ+ content coming our way on television and in the movies during the coming months. This, of course, is 2020, which means normalcy is temporarily (we hope) on hold.
The impact of COVID, among other things, means that the line between TV and film – already growing very thin – has been all but erased, for the duration; for most of us, whichever of these two media we choose to experience will be showing up on exactly the same screen, and that means distinguishing between them is an exercise in splitting hairs. Another consequence of the current pandemic is that the usual certainty about what new and returning content is showing up – not to mention when it’s likely to get here – is a lot less certain.
The good news is that, in this age of streaming entertainment, there are plenty of options for LGBTQ+ viewers to turn to as they continue the longest couch-sitting marathon in recent memory, with a vast library of queer content available on all the major streaming platforms. Yes, a lot of it has been around for a while, but odds are good there’s still more to explore – and even if productions have been slowed or stopped for a lot of the industry, there’s also still a lot of new stuff coming our way. That’s especially true on Netflix, which continues to lead the charge for queer inclusion in its programming (despite the streaming giant’s recent and controversial cancellation of three popular shows with lesbian leads due to “COVID-related circumstances”).
With all that in mind, here’s the Blade’s short list of movies and shows to be on the lookout for as the temperature begins to drop on our annual journey toward winter – and the 2021 awards season.
This high-profile, sci-fi-ish thriller isn’t specifically LGBTQ+ in its focus – instead it’s a thinly disguised, time-hopping exploration of racism in America – but its directors, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, and two of its stars, Janelle Monáe and Kiersey Clemons, are all out and proud. Even without that connection, though, this tense-looking drama would deserve inclusion here for the timely relevance of its story about a successful author (Monáe) who finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality – in which she is forced to confront the past, present, and future before it’s too late. The directors (who brand themselves as Bush / Renz), known for their advertising work in the fight for social justice, make their feature film debut with what looks like a smart social allegory, fueled by a fierce spirit of activism; that makes it a must-see when it drops for premium On Demand streaming on Sept. 18.
It’s not technically new, having officially been given a theatrical release in July, but it’s unlikely many have yet had the chance to see this Kerry Washington-produced documentary about the legal challenges taken up by the ACLU during the Trump era – and it feels like essential viewing. Following a scrappy team of heroic lawyers as they battle for abortion rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights and voting rights in this defining moment of American history, it currently holds a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it streams on Hulu starting Sept. 18.
“The Boys in the Band”
The Big Gay News onscreen this fall, of course, is the much-anticipated filmed adaptation of 2018’s Broadway production of this queer classic, which reunites the revival’s cast and director for a fresh take on Mart Crowley’s acerbic portrait of gay friends gathering at a birthday party in 1968 New York. Joe Mantello guides an ensemble of talented out actors headed by Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, and Andrew Rannells (among other familiar faces), bringing contemporary perspective to a play that was criticized for presenting a dated and negative image of gay life before being reassessed and embraced as a slice-of-life snapshot from an era when being gay was something safer kept behind closed doors. By all reports its bitter and acerbic wit was tempered in the Tony-winning remount by humanity and insight – along with some strategic editing – that will presumably translate onto the screen when this must-see cultural touchstone hits Netflix on Sept. 30.
A gritty new young adult drama from playwright Katie Cappiello, this nine-episode series follows five students at the largest public high school in Brooklyn as they take on our chaotic world in a fight to “succeed, survive, wild out, break free and seize the future.” Featuring a diverse cast of youthful stars and at least one gay storyline, it’s an intriguing new entry on the ever-growing list of shows offering hope for a fresh new era, with publicity materials describing it as a show that “tunnels into a generation that’s raging and rising.” It drops on Netflix Oct. 16.
Written and directed by Cambodian-born British filmmaker Hong Khaou, this queer romantic drama features “Crazy Rich Asians” heartthrob Henry Golding as a young man who returns to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time since fleeing with his family in the aftermath of the Vietnam-American war. Now a stranger in his own country, he returns to scatter his parents’ ashes and reconnect with his estranged family; he also connects with – and falls for – Lewis (Parker Sawyers, “Southside With You”), an American whose father had fought in the war. Diversity and a strong Indy pedigree make this one a safe bet when it opens in theaters, virtual cinemas, and On Demand premium video platforms on Nov. 13.
Another weighty contender is this new film from another British filmmaker, Francis Lee, whose “God’s Own Country” was a favorite of queer critics and audiences alike in 2017. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan star in a fictional story about real-life pioneering paleontologist Mary Annon, whose bleak life selling fossils by the seashore in 1840s England is unexpectedly brightened when she makes an arrangement with a tourist to care for his young wife as she recovers from a personal tragedy. According to the official synopsis, that’s “the beginning of a passionate and all-consuming love affair that will defy all social bounds and alter the course of both lives irrevocably.” Sounds like just something we could all use, at this point. Slated for theatrical release on Nov. 13.
Amazon gets into the race with this Alan Ball-directed coming out story set in 1973. Sophia Lillis stars as a rural southern teenager studying at NYU, where she soon discovers that her beloved Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany), a respected professor there, has been secretly living with a longtime male partner (Peter Macdissi) for years. A sudden death in the family necessitates a return home for both uncle and niece to attend the funeral, forcing Frank to finally face a long-buried trauma from which he has been running away for his entire adult life. Also starring Steve Zahn, Judy Greer and the magnificent Margo Martindale, this 2020 Sundance contender is slated for release to Amazon Prime on Nov. 26.