While everyone is off cruising the LGBT section of Netflix, and watching the Babadook way too many times, Amazon Video is slaying the game with streamable queer content. Alongside the hit Transparent, Amazon is streaming some of the best, most impactful queer films of all time.
Director: John Sayles
I’ll never forget the evening I saw Lianna, way back when I was a wee lad — more than thirty years ago. At a time when LGBTQ people were largely invisible in pop culture, I was thirsty to see any and all images of queer love which might be available. And so, I went to see Lianna, a lesbian love story. I was the only male in the theater.
“Hi, I’m gay,” I said to the lesbian couple in the back row as I entered the auditorium.
“How nice for you,” one of them said.
Lianna was written and directed by John Sayles, then a maverick independent filmmaker who produced quality work on the lowest possible budgets. Lianna, produced for a paltry $300,00, was no exception. Apparently, many other moviegoers of that time also wanted to see queers on screen. The film made its budget back several times over.
Lianna is a work of stunning insight and maturity. Canadian stage actress Linda Griffiths stars in the title role, a bored New Jersey housewife who goes back to school. She quickly develops a crush on Ruth (Jane Hallaren), her professor. Much to Lianna’s surprise, Ruth returns the affections. The two embark on an affair and fail in love.
Lianna is a portrait of good people who don’t mean to hurt each other. Lianna hurts her husband when she leaves him, but Ruth in turn hurts Lianna because she has a chance to get back with her ex.
“I’ve been through so much with her,” Ruth says tearfully.
Sayles weaves a mesmerizing tale of one woman’s desire to make a better life for herself. As viewers watch Lianna stumble in the dark, they might recognize a bit of themselves in her story.
Lianna is available on DVD at Amazon. It can also be streamed at Amazon Video.
Trans America (2005)
Director: Duncan Tucker
History will remember Trans America as the first trans-themed film to be recognized at the Academy Awards. Superstar Dolly Parton received a nomination for composing and performing “Travelin’ Thru,” the film’s theme song.
“You seem to have an affinity for the gay community,” Larry King observed during a CNN interview with Parton.
“Why Larry, I don’t have an affinity for anyone in particular,” Parton replied. “I just believe in the Lord and love everybody.”
Why can’t our political leaders say such things?
Trans America, another low budget indie which pulled in the crowds, is a sweet story. Felicity Huffman, nominated in the Best Actress category, stars as Bree, a transwoman about to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Bree’s therapist (Elizabeth Pena) must approve the surgery, which she will do after Bree reconnects with her family and reconciles her past.
Most of the film follows Bree and her son (Kevin Zegers) as they embark on a cross-country road trip, where Bree meets with her transphobic parents. Mom and Dad aren’t evil; they genuinely love their daughter; they’re just struggling to understand. Also struggling is Toby, Bree’s son, a bisexual escort who at first doesn’t realize that the woman driving him out west is his dad.
Like Lianna, Trans America is another film of depth and maturity. The audience meets a group of deeply flawed characters who are trying to do what’s right — if only they can figure out what the right thing is. The film will tug at viewers’ heartstrings while it also teaches an important lesson: that we must all accept each other for who each of us it.
Trans America can also be purchased on DVD or streamed at Amazon.
Director: Sean Baker
Tangerine flips the coin and exposes the other side of transgender life. The film focuses on trans women of color who work the streets of Los Angeles, working as sex workers because no other profession is open to them. Their families want nothing to do with them. In addition to homophobia and transphobia, they must also deal with racism and the constant threat of violence.
In the midst of their very hard lives, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) form a deep bond. The women aren’t a couple; they’re best friends, sisters. Neither of them has a family they can turn to, so they become family to each other.
An intense and gritty film, Tangerine reminds us that trans women of color remain at the bottom of the LGBTQ ladder. All they want is a better life. The film gives them a well-deserved platform in which to be heard.
Tangerine is available on DVD and Blu Ray at Amazon. It also streams at Amazon Video.
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
Director: Ang Lee
This charming romantic comedy came to audiences courtesy of the acclaimed Asian filmmaker Ang Lee, who won an Oscar a decade later for calling the shots on the now classic, gay romance Brokeback Mountain (2005).
One of the loveliest and most uplifting gay films we’ve seen, The Wedding Banquet tells the delightful tale of Wai-Tung and Simon, an Asian/white gay couple in New York who are out and proud to everyone — except to Wai-Tung’s parents.
When Wai-Tung agrees to marry Wei-Wei, a woman who’s in need of a green card, his conservative parents rush to New York from Taiwan to help arrange what they think will be a traditional Taiwanese wedding. Wai-Tung and Simon pretend to roommates as soon as mom and dad arrive.
Hilarity ensues as the pretense backfires, causing the truth to come out. The Wedding Banquet is another story of good people who are struggling to understand. Wai-Tung’s parents genuinely love him, and he loves them. Love is a great healer, and the truth will set you free, as the film beautifully points out.
As with the other films, The Wedding Banquet in available on DVD at Amazon, and also streams at Amazon Video.