During the pandemic, Netflix has cemented its place as the center of our media comfort food diet in harrowing times.
“Schitt’s Creek,” which envisioned a world where homophobia doesn’t exist and wealthy people can be humbled into improving themselves, was a large part of that. While the Canadian TV show started airing in the US on cable through the Pop network, it first found a mass audience and made out gay actor/creator Dan Levy a star when it started streaming on Netflix alongside other queer shows from the recent past like “Orange is the New Black” and “Sense8.”
At this point, Disney may be the only corporation which has a larger influence on American media. But the streaming service is notorious for dropping a dozen new films and TV series each week, giving most little publicity.
Here is a guide to some of the best LGBTQ-themed content to watch on Netflix in the new year:
“Big Mouth” looks back to ‘90s animated comedy, complete with a crude drawing style and sense of humor never more than a few minutes away from jokes about masturbation or periods. But it has an earnestness and sense of responsibility missing from earlier, more cynical shows like “South Park” and “Beavis & Butt-Head.” Many parents would be pissed off if their 11-year-old kids watched it, but the show seems designed to compensate for the inadequacy of American sex education classes, including filling its cast with LGBTQ and BIPOC characters and correcting its mistakes (like suggesting last season that identifying as bisexual is transphobic.) Season four, which introduced a newly out transgender character in its first episode, premiered on Netflix last December.
Deepa Mehta’s film relates to a romance between two Sri Lankan teenage boys as civil war between the country’s Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic groups heats up in the ‘80s. The Indian-Canadian director starts with her hero, Arjie, as an 8-year-old young boy whose gayness his family can already detect, and then jumps ahead a decade to show him in high school. He and his boyfriend look to British pop singers like David Bowie and Boy George as models of acceptance, but their love can’t solve the problems of a country rife with violence.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Directed by out gay Public Theater veteran George C. Wolfe, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” takes place during the rehearsal and recording of a new song by the blues great of the title. A bisexual woman, Rainey (Viola Davis) is affectionate with her girlfriend Dussie Mae (Taylor Paige), who also sleeps with her trumpet player (Chadwick Boseman.) Although the male musicians in Rainey’s backing band get more attention than Rainey herself, this showcases several great, volatile performances — including Boseman’s raw turn, filmed a year before his death from colon cancer last August — with Ruben Santiago-Hudson smartly adapting August Wilson’s play.
In January, the second season of this groundbreaking TV series, produced by Ryan Murphy, comes to Netflix. Set at roughly the same time “Paris Is Burning” was made, “Pose” covers similar ground but tries to do a better job of letting trans women represent themselves. (It’s depressing to realize that this was innovative for TV when it began airing in 2018.) Instead of serving up misery porn, “Pose” emphasizes the joy of ballroom voguing and its characters’ sense of community while still showing the discrimination and violence trans women often face.
Does Ryan Murphy ever sleep? The second film he directed for Netflix this year (following his remake of “The Boys in the Band”), “The Prom” adapted the popular musical about homophobia at a high school in a small Indiana town. Broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden, in a performance widely criticized for embracing stereotypes of flamboyant gay men) swoop in to try save Middle America from itself.
“The Half of It”
Director Alice Wu’s teen rom-com is a lesbian equivalent to “Love, Simon.” However, the plot is inspired by “Cyrano de Bergerac,” as jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) solicits shy classmate Ellie (Leah Lewis) to help him woo a popular girl, only for Ellie to fall in love with her. It’s the kind of fun, affirmative coming-of-age story that many LGBTQ adults wish Hollywood had been making when we were actually teens.
The transgender version of “The Celluloid Closet,” “Disclosure” surveys trans representation since the silent movies. It’s marred by its near-exclusive focus on mainstream English-language movies and TV rather than pay attention to independent work created by LGBTQ people that offered a more positive view of the community. But with an entirely transgender and non-binary set of on-screen voices, it mounts a very convincing case that Hollywood has damaged all of our perceptions of trans lives.
“Your Name Engraved Herein”
Released in Taiwan last December and quickly becoming the most popular LGBTQ-themed film in the country’s history, “Your Name Engraved Herein” relates a love story between two boys in a Catholic high school as the country transitioned from martial law to democracy in 1987. The tone fits the somber but promising times as the characters struggle to accept their sexuality amid stigma and pressure to pretend to be heterosexual. A finale shows us what happened to them 20 years later in Canada.
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