On the heels of the success of biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody, about the rise and fall of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, and Rocketman, the fantastical exploration of Elton John’s career, it’s quite clear that the time is now to inject the cinematic cannon with more LGBTQ+ excellence. But we all know Hollywood sometimes has difficulty looking for new stories to tell. So, we’re doing some of the work for them. Here are 15 other LGBTQ+ people who, too, deserve their own biopic.
(But please, cast queer and trans people to play queer and trans people on screen!)
Rustin is best known as the Civil Rights Movement leader not enough people actually know. The right-hand man for Martin Luther King Jr. and chief planner of the March on Washington, Rustin was openly gay during a very difficult time period. And in fact, he was asked to hide his sexuality while involved in the Movement for fear of being a distraction. There have been plenty of documentaries about the the man — Brother Outsider is a good one that comes to mind — so check those out, but I can easily see a full-on biopic about him.
The prolific choreographer who gave us the masterpiece that is “Revelations” deserves. Alvin Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958 as a way to preserve the uniqueness of the Black American cultural experience and imbue modern dance heritage with it. He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now The Ailey School) in 1969 and formed the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II) in 1974, becoming a pioneer of arts education programs benefiting underserved communities. Though he died almost 30 years ago, his work lives on, making him one of the most impactful choreographers ever.
It was recently announced that Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins will be directing an adaptation of Ailey’s life story for the big screen, written by Julian Breece.
Probably one of the most recognizable LGBTQ+ people in the world, Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t always the lovable talk show host who embraces her strained relationship with rhythm and coordination. Some 20 years ago, she proclaimed her sexuality while at the top of her career on the cover of Time magazine and in her self-titled sitcom. It was a major career risk, and one that didn’t pay off in the immediate aftermath, as the show was soon after canceled, forcing her to rebuild. And rebuild she surely has. I can just imagine the behind-the-scenes tension we’d get in a biopic of her life — and the unvarnished look at the love between her and Portia de Rossi. The tears are flowing already.
Author, television writer, and director Janet Mock has already given us two memoirs about coming into her identity as a Black trans woman, Redefining Realness and Surpassing Certainty. Both are perfect fodder to be adapted. And because she’s already demonstrated her ability to do all of the things, Mock can write it and direct it. Now that is authentic storytelling!
One of the foremothers of the modern LGBTQ+ Rights Movement, Marsha P. Johnson still doesn’t get enough credit for her radical efforts to claim space and assert her identity in a world that wanted otherwise. And sure, we’ve seen a number of docs and short films about Miss “Pay It No Mind” — The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson and Tourmaline’s Happy Birthday Marsha! — but a big-budget picture chronicling her childhood and rise to Christopher St. infamy might truly be the best way to spread the word of her greatness.
Just like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera’s contributions to our ability to live out loud today often goes unnoticed. In addition to her unapologeticaly holding the gay establishment accountable for marginalizing folks like her, she created Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and the accompanying STAR House, one of the first major initiatives centering trans and gender nonconforming people in our community.
Photographer Chuck Renslow pioneered homoerotic photography in the mid-20th-century in the United States. Along with Dom Orejudos, he founded the male physique photography studio, Kris Studios, and eventually bought Gold Coast Show Lounge, which they transformed into one of the world's first leather bars. That bar was the site of the leather contests that grew into the International Mr. Leather competition. Renslow, who died in 2017, also founded the magazines Triumph, Rawhide, and Mars.
With the series Becoming Chaz, the son of Cher and Bono let the world in on his journey to self. Centered on his transition, it gave us a sense of what it was like growing up as the child of superstars and how that impacted his gender. I think a silver screen version of his story would be major for trans masc representation.
Known as the “Queen of Disco,” Sylvester was feeling mighty real long before it was widely acceptable to be openly queer (and Black) in the music industry. Known for his flamboyance, androgyny, and falsetto, the hitmaker was an activist who campaigned against the spread of HIV/AIDS, though he died from complications arising from the virus in 1988, leaving all future royalties from his work to San Francisco-based charities. In 2005, he was posthumously inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. Icon Sheryl Lee Ralph has already produced a stage musical based on Sylvester’s life, so this should be easy.
Today, we refer to the late writer and cultural commentator James Baldwin as a prophet. That’s because his work has transcended generations in relevancy, about the ills of racism, white supremacy, and other oppressions. But the man who gave us Giovanni’s Room, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film), and Notes of A Native Son, was more than his writing. Rumor has it he had a number of trysts with the likes of Marlon Brando and I just need to see it played out on film.
Say what you will about the former Olympian and Kardashian parent, but Caitlyn Jenner — with assists from Diane Sawyer, Vanity Fair, and a docuseries, I am Cait — is one of the most visible trans people ever. And though we got a lot out of her media blitz and coming out, hearing the advocate discuss how she’d go out in public in disguise pre-transition sounds intriguing and spinnable into a gripping on-screen narrative. Not to mention, the broader spectacle of the world that Jenner exists in is what helps make great entertainment.
CeCe McDonald and a group of friends made a midnight run to the store down the street from her Minneapolis home on the night of June 5, 2011. In the middle of their walk, they were accosted by a gang of white bar patrons who hurled racist, homophobic, and transphobic slurs toward them. McDonald eventually squared off with one of the male assailants who, by the end of the altercation, died from injuries after a pair of scissors pierced his chest — scissors that came out of McDonald's purse. That night landed McDonald, a Black transgender woman, in a men's prison and set off a firestorm of support with champions who included actress Laverne Cox, who produced the doc Free Cece. McDonald was released in January 2014 after serving 19 months.
Fashion designer Patrick Kelley rose to acclaim in Paris after his brightly colored lewks that referenced pop culture and Black folklore were featured in Elk, a French fashion magazine. The story goes that the Vicksburg, Mississippi-native was encouraged by pioneering supermodel Pat Cleveland to move to New York City from Atlanta to sell his designs. But a few months after doing so, Kelly received a one-way ticket to Paris from an anonymous friend where his “fast fashions” eventually led to him being the first American to be admitted to the Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode, the prestigious governing body of the French ready-to-wear industry.
Known as the first Black trans woman model to achieve prominence, Tracey “Africa” Norman was featured in magazines and on the box of Clairol’s "Born Beautiful" hair color No. 512 in the 70s and 80s. But she contends that following a shoot for Essence magazine, which was shut down after someone outed her to the editor, her career took a downturn. That is until after a biographical piece was written about her in December 2015 by The Cut. She was invited back to Clairol as a campaing model and, in 2016, she and Geena Rocero became the first two openly transgender models to appear on the cover of an edition of Harper’s Bazaar.
If you haven’t seen The Gospel According to André, do so. Then, you’ll understand why this former editor-at-large of Vogue magazine deserves the silver screen treatment. In the film he talks of being a larger-than-life, Black man moving through the fashion industry in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and the racism he faced. Nevertheless he persisted, becoming one of the most respected names in fashion and the literal definition of an icon. (And I volunteer as tribute if we need to cast someone with the quickness!)