Black History Month 2019 may be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean you should stop learning about the Black queer experience. And while dramatized depictions of Black queer life as seen in films like Moonlight, Pariah, Tangerine, and Noah’s Arc: Jumping The Broom are great, these 11 documentaries present varied, real-life portraits of the lives of Black LGBTQ+ people. Here’s to you educating yourself 365 days a year!
When Jewel Thais-Williams started clubbing in the early 1970s, Los Angeles gay clubs often denied her entrance because she was Black and female. There was no space where Black LGBTQ+ people could escape what they saw as the racial discrimination of West Hollywood and the homophobia of the African-American community. So in 1973 she opened Catch One, one of the first Black discos in the country. Jewel’s Catch One reflects on this moment in time and the club’s closure — as the last Black-owned queer club in the city — in 2015. Available on Netflix.
Educator, poet, and activist Marlon T. Riggs was a prolific filmmaker who produced, wrote, and directed several docs that were provocative in their time. In 1989, he released Tongues Untied which aims to, in his words, "...shatter the nation's brutalizing silence on matters of sexual and racial difference” and explores Black gay culture in the '80s, including the loss of many to AIDS. The doc features Riggs along with Essex Hemphill and Brian Freeman. Available on Kanopy.
This film documents Black activists, families, and clergy on both sides of the campaign to legalize gay marriage and the fight over civil rights. It interrogates homophobia in the community’s pillar of the Black church. Available on YouTube.
Directed by Kortney Ryan Ziegler, this film helps diversify the canon of queer docs by centering the experiences of Black trans men. A collection of six black-and-white shorts, each mini-film upends the trite, negative portrayals and stereotypes of Black men in the media. Available for digital download.
While Paris is Burning set the stage for cinematic exploration of the ballroom scene, Kiki updates it. Directed by Sara Jordenö, with Twiggy Pucci Garçon co-writing the screenplay, this doc delves into the present-day community. Available on Hulu.
Directed by Clay Cane, this doc produced for BET “puts the narrative in the hands of Black LGBT people who are struggling with the intersections of sexuality, faith and race.” A collection of experiences of LGBTQ+ folks involved in the Black church, the doc centers on the city of Atlanta where both identities and cultures often cross paths. Available on BET.
From visual artist, filmmaker, and curator Tiona McClodden, black./womyn. contains candid interviews with Black lesbian women on coming out, sexuality and religion, love and relationships, visibility in media, discrimination and homophobia, activism, and what it means to call oneself a Black lesbian. It features interviews with close to 50 out, Black lesbians including author Cheryl Clarke, filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons, poet Staceyann Chin, artist Hanifah Walidah, and hip-hop duo KIN among others.
In this mid-60s, Oscar-nominated Shirley Clarke, her husband Carl Lee, and their crew sat in a New York apartment with Jason Holiday on camera. A Black, gay hustler and aspiring cabaret performer, Jason narrates his troubled life story to the camera while Clarke and Lee berate him with questions off-camera. Credited for employing avant-garde and cinéma vérité techniques, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" in 2015. Available on Amazon.
David Kato is known as Uganda’s first openly gay man and one of the few who dared to publicly protest state-sanctioned homophobia. This doc from Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall chronicles the last year of his life — he was brutally murdered a year into filming — fighting for the rights of LGBTQ+ Ugangdans. It received the 2014 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary. Available Amazon and iTunes.
On her way to the store with a group of friends, Chrishaun Reed "CeCe" McDonald was brutally attacked. While defending her life, a man was killed. After a coercive interrogation, CeCe, a Black trans woman, was incarcerated in a men's prison in Minnesota. This film, executive produced by Laverne Cox, follows the international campaign to free her. Available on Amazon.
André Leon Talley is a noted fashion journalist who broke racial barriers while serving at Vogue. Director Kate Novack explores his life and career, from his childhood in the segregated South to his iconic, barrier-breaking work, in this stirring and revealing documentary. Available on Hulu.