Of course, even though the gays are sprinkled throughout the entertainment industry, we’ve yet to become fully realized when it comes to the entertainment we make for ourselves.
In other words: A lot of gay movies you’ll find on Netflix are utter crap.
In an effort to solicit the best titles from our readers, I’ll share with you some of my gay (and non-gay) must-sees. Be prepared for whacky tastes, and please don’t hold me accountable for wasting two hours of your life on something I loved but you hated. View at your own risk.
All summaries are via Netflix (with a few notes of my own here and there), so don’t blame me for those either.
That said, here are my choices from the last year and a half.
Must-sees of extreme gay interest:
This documentary explores the case of Jen Harris, a gifted college basketball player who was drummed out of Penn State’s basketball program by Coach Rene Portland for her perceived sexual orientation. Harris’s court case against Portland’s decision spurred other players to speak out about Portland’s harassment and shined a revealing light on the sexual orientation-based discriminatory policies many college sports programs still condone.
“Paris Is Burning”
Piercing New York City’s tight-knit community of minority drag queens, this 1990 documentary offers a look at the underground dance style of “voguing.”
Bo says: If you’ve already seen it, show this classic to a friend who hasn’t. Everyone I’ve introduced to this feature-length doc has walked away entertained, enlightened and more curious than ever about the ballroom culture that still influences many aspects of our community.
“Red Without Blue”
This provocative and insightful film documents three years in the lives of identical twins Mark and Alex Farley as they come to terms not only with their homosexuality, but also with Alex’s decision to transition from male to female. Haunted by a troubled past — including divorced parents, discrimination and a joint suicide attempt — the brothers struggle to affirm their identity and learn what it means to be a family outside of traditional norms.
Bo says: You might recognize trans twin Clair Farley from National Geographic’s “American Transgender” special that first aired in May 2012 and featured footage from this often tragic documentary.
“Wish Me Away”
This poignant documentary, filmed over three years, profiles country music star Chely Wright, a devout Christian whose struggle to succeed in the music biz while hiding her homosexuality from her conservative family and fans caused her much anguish.
“Black White + Gray”
Punk poetess Patti Smith reflects on the relationship she shared with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and curator-collector Sam Wagstaff in the heady years of the 1970s and ’80s New York art scene.
This documentary examines the career of New York club owner Peter Gatien, whose run-ins with the law eventually had him deported to Canada. Through Gatien, viewers are treated to a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of New York’s wild nightlife.
“Hit So Hard”
This compelling documentary chronicles the life of former Hole drummer Patty Schemel, from childhood through her rise to fame and beyond, revealing her near-destruction by the personal demons that so often accompany celebrity.
Bo says: Again, Netflix might list this in their gay interest section, but the summary fails to mention that Patty Schemel is the openly gay former drummer of Courtney Love’s band Hole. It would be easy for Love to take over this documentary, but Schemel’s charisma thankful keeps the camera’s focus.
The toast of New York City society after penning “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” flamboyant writer Truman Capote finds himself in a dance with the devil while researching the Clutter family murders for his masterwork, “In Cold Blood.”
Winning four consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series, creator Aaron Sorkin’s powerful political epic chronicles the triumphs and travails of White House senior staff under the administration of President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen). The acclaimed ensemble cast features Stockard Channing, Allison Janney, Rob Lowe, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford as members of the president’s inner circle.
Bo says: Not every episode overruns with gay content, but if you didn’t get attached to this gem in the early 2000s, now is the time to get on board. It’s hard to imagine Sorkin’s idea of a liberal White House playing well on TV today, but it’s great to have this series on demand for those yearning for season two of HBO’s “Newsroom”, also written by Sorkin.
“We Were Here”
The AIDS crisis forever changed gay culture in San Francisco, as examined in this absorbing documentary from David Weissman, who explores the disease’s impact on five individuals. Vintage film clips accompany their sobering stories.
“The Topp Twins”
Trace the fascinating lives of New Zealand’s provocative music and comedy duo Jools and Linda Topp through this enjoyable documentary, which details the lesbian twins’ rural upbringing, political activism and immense popularity at home and abroad. Featuring hilarious interviews with several of the sisters’ most outrageous alter egos, this joyous celebration also includes brilliant insights into New Zealand’s history.
“Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey”
Beloved by millions of children, Elmo is a global icon. However, few people know the soft-spoken man behind the furry red monster: Kevin Clash. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, this documentary follows Clash’s remarkable career as a puppeteer.
Bo says: This documentary came out long before Kevin Clash and his “accusers.” It might be strange to recommend it after Elmo-gate lead to Clash’s resignation from Sesame Street in late 2012, but this film serves as a brilliant reminder that talent can come from the most meager beginnings.
This Oscar-nominated documentary explores the tragic policy decision by Romanian dictator Nicolei Ceaucescu to outlaw the use of contraceptives and encourage his impoverished populace to have more children. Thousands of children were born to broken or dysfunctional families in a nation mired in political and economic instability, resulting in a large and rapidly growing population of homeless children in the city of Bucharest.
“The Queen of Versailles”
Meet the Siegels, glitterati who made a fortune in the time-share business only to see it crumble in the 2008 financial collapse. The site of their rise and almost-fall is their home (America’s largest), a gaudy replica of the Palace of Versailles.
In this documentary, filmmakers Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi explore the rise and fall of Cleanflicks, a movie rental company that edited offensive material out of Hollywood films to produce unauthorized “clean” versions for its customers.
This documentary follows a diverse group of California youth, including underprivileged kids, as they escape the violence of their neighborhoods by participating in a renowned Shakespeare competition.
A U.S. drug czar learns his teenage daughter is an addict in this Oscar-winning saga that interlaces three disturbing snapshots of America’s drug war.
“The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”
Once a sign of hope for the underprivileged, the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished. In this documentary, archival footage and interviews shed light on the legacy and meaning of the project.
“Snow On Tha Bluff”
Set in urban Atlanta, this hyperreal gangster drama centers on kinetic dope dealer Curtis Snow, who nabs a video camera off a pair of college kids, then begins recording the deals, deliveries and shoot-outs that comprise his daily operation.
Bo says: This low-budget, faux(?) cinema verite piece isn’t for everyone. It’s jarring, violent and ripe with filthy street language that reminds me of the “Blair Witch Project” in that it leaves viewers wondering what they just watched. Documentary? Fiction? Either way, it leaves a scar.
Filmed before a live audience, this big-screen presentation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical “Memphis” follows the 1950s-era interracial love story between Tennessee radio disc jockey Huey Calhoun and local singer Felicia Farrell. Even as their budding careers in R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll prove the power of music to overcome prejudice, their relationship sparks a racial backlash that may destroy their love.
“Into the Woods”
Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning musical proves that fairy tales don’t end at “happily ever after.” An assortment of well-known characters from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” head into the woods for a variety of reasons, but they soon discover a common enemy — an angry giant who threatens to trample them all. A stand-out cast from the original Broadway production includes Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason.
“Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story”
Actor Zachary Levi narrates this eye-opening look at the history of one of America’s favorite board games, a timeless diversion that brings out the competitor — and inner real estate mogul — in all of us.
“Tori Amos: Live at Montreux 1991 & 1992”
A pair of concerts from 1991 and 1992 showcase the talent and distinctive style of singer, songwriter and pianist Tori Amos during the infancy of her storied career. The set list includes selections from her debut solo album, “Little Earthquakes.”
Bo says: For fans who long for the “old” Tori Amos, here she is in her element.
The name Borgia stands for betrayal, intrigue and corruption in the Vatican, which was the center of the world during the Renaissance. Rodrigo Borgia — later Pope Alexander VI — embodied the spirit of the time with its unimaginable contradictions.
Bo says: It feels a little like a cheap knock-off of Showtime’s “The Tudors,” but it’s a dramatic way to pass the time if you’re into period dramas.
“The Snake Pit”
Olivia de Havilland earned an Oscar nomination for her work in this stark drama as Virginia Cunningham, a married young woman whose idyllic life falls apart when she sinks into a world of psychosis and is eventually placed in an institution. Adapted from Mary Jane Ward’s gripping autobiography, Anatole Litvak’s portrait of mental illness examines the treatment of mentally unstable patients in the late 1940s and ’50s.
Bo says: “Girl, Interrupted” is one of my favorite films. “The Snake Pit” is its equally dark grandmother.
“All About Eve”
Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp script anchors this story about New York City theater life, with Bette Davis playing an aging Broadway diva who employs a starstruck fan (Anne Baxter) as her assistant, only to learn the woman is a conniving upstart. The now-classic All About Eve won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Mankiewicz), Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders).
In this character-driven documentary, filmmakers Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo follow four “word nerds” through their fastidious preparations and smaller tournaments that lead to the national championship Scrabble tournament in San Diego in 2002. Our favorite contender: Joel Sherman, a true dork with acid reflux trouble (he constantly quaffs Maalox) and no other discernible job besides playing Scrabble.
Bo says: I first watched “Word Wars” years ago when Netflix was just a DVD-by-mail service. The characters have stuck with me since and I was happy to see the doc available for streaming.
From director Morgan Spurlock and producers Will Arnett and Jason Bateman comes a raucous but thoughtful documentary examining what defines masculinity in our modern culture of male grooming products, suave celebrities and avant-garde facial hair.