In our recent review of Amara Cash’s Daddy Issues (available now to rent!) we celebrated it as a properly queer, “heterophobic” movie. Multi-hyphenate feminist pornographer Paulita Pappel commented asking us for a top 100 heterophobic movies list and we thought that was a great idea. I’m certainly not one to pass up the opportunity to discuss the very queerest of queer cinema!
Alas this list is not 100 films deep due to the limits of my knowledge/the limits of film history, but here are 14 more films that proudly fit the title.
1) Directed or co-directed by a queer person
2) Queer in form as well as content
3) Shows active disregard for cishet audiences
4) Lacks narrative and genre elements that might endear it to a cishet gaze
5) Focuses on queers who aren’t cis men (we’ll leave that list to another site)
14. Dirty Computer (Janelle Monáe, Andrew Donoho, Lacey Duke, Alan Ferguson, Chuck Lightning, Emma Westenberg)
“You would never call it the stuff of painful, soul-baring confessional.” – Alexis Petridis, The Guardian
Janelle Monáe’s “emotion picture” certainly has more mass appeal than a lot of the films on this list. The album it was released with was Grammy-nominated after all. But within its sci-fi music video charm lies an unbending sense of purpose. Janelle Monáe and her team created a film that is at once a sci-fi epic, a visual album, a public coming out, a celebration of queerness/blackness/femaleness, and an ode to everybody different. I also credit it for turning one of my close friends queer, because along with being an open hearted work of art it’s also extremely hot. It’s been a year since its release and I think we should still be talking about it. All the time. Forever.
13. The Young Marrieds (Shirley Wood)
“The final scene of The Young Marrieds might be its real money shot, when a Criswell-like narrator portentously intones some crazy-ass pseudo-philosophical bullshit over a shot of ocean waves crashing against huge jagged promontories (it’s art!).” – Adrian Mack, The Georgia Straight
You’ll have to sit through a lot of straight sex (some with questionable consent) to get to the reason this movie is on this list. But if you enjoy watching straight men get Tim-ed as much as I do then it’ll be worth it. This 1972 porn film directed by legendary trans filmmaker Shirley Wood is about a man desperate to get his “frigid” wife into being non-monogamous. Unfortunately, (or, in my opinion, very fortunately) he is met with a surprise. Spoiler alert: that surprise is gay!
12. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan)
“What a shame that this well-meaning look at the absurdity of gay conversion camps lacks the teeth to make its points stick.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
Shoutout to Oscar-nominated cinematographer and noted lesbian Rachel Morrison for being on the Sundance jury last year and likely influencing The Miseducation of Cameron Post taking home the top prize. But even with this accolade the film was not immediately bought for distribution and upon its release was met with a rather muted response. The mainstream seemed to want trauma from its conversion therapy movie and instead Desiree Akhavan gave them two teenagers hooking up during Desert Hearts. The film cares less about the ins and outs of conversion therapy and more about the ways cishet society causes us all to question our truth. Cameron’s self-doubt and self-hatred is relatable to most queer people whether we’ve experienced brainwashing of this nature or not. It may not have been a runaway hit at the box office or on the awards circuit, but Akhavan’s film is sure to be celebrated by generations of queers to come.
11. Valencia (Clement Hil Goldberg, Peter Anthony, Sharon Barnes, Aubree Bernier-Clarke, Cary Cronenwett, Bug Davidson, Cheryl Dunye, Lares Feliciano, Dia Felix, Silas Howard, Alexa Inkeles, Jerry Lee, Olivia Parriott, Jill Soloway, Samuel Topiary, Courtney Trouble, Michelle Lawler, Sara St. Martin Lynne, Chris Vargas, Greg Youmans)
The whole piece never coheres into something meaningful.” – Dan Schindel, Movie Mezzanine
Is there anything queerer than a Michelle Tea adaptation directed by twenty people? Not much! Especially not when those twenty people approach the material with an immense amount of fluidity in casting and in form. It’s basically a requirement when discussing an omnibus film to warn that some sections are better than others, but in this case I think it’s just a matter of personal preference. You may be more drawn to one style over another, but no chapter feels like an obvious weak link. My personal favorite may be the collection of altered and dubbed Angelina Jolie movies. (Gia waking up next to a pile of tarot cards is peak for queers by queers.) This movie also includes the line “Later I got lonely and started throwing zine parties.” So… yeah.
10. D.E.B.S. (Angela Robinson)
“Only the world of X-rated movies overlooks such flimsiness of plot, absence of acting talent, cheap special effects, banal dialogue and scantily clad young women.” – Susan Walker, Toronto Star
Rachel’s “10 Thoughts on Classic Lesbian Movie D.E.B.S. After Seeing It for the First Time Yesterday” and all of the comments below may have been when I truly fell in love with Autostraddle.com. So many people shared how D.E.B.S. made their baby gay lives a little brighter and it really pointed to how something fun can truly be meaningful. Angela Robinson really gave us a gift with this one. A decade and a half later lesbian-action-romance is still not a genre we see a lot (or ever), but we’ll always have D.E.B.S. And it’s amazing.
9. Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (Madeleine Olnek)
“Madeleine Olnek has a limited repertoire of jokes” – Jaime N. Christley, Slant Magazine
This movie about aliens sent to Earth because they have too many feelings is not relatable at all. Not when they actively make poor romantic choices or go to the Cubby Hole or start vlogging or fall in love with their best friends. Definitely nothing to relate to whatsoever! Okay that’s obviously a lie and if at some point during this movie you don’t shout, “Oh God I’m such a Zylar!” then you’re lying too (alternate options: Barr, Zoinx). This movie’s many delights come from how honest and specific its lesbian love stories remain despite the added element of socially awkward aliens. After all, aren’t we all socially awkward aliens?
8. Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pedro Almodóvar)
“Pedro Almodovar showed not a whisker of promise in his amateurish directorial debut, a smutty sexual sideshow most safely viewed in a full body condom.” – Rita Kempley, Washington Post
This movie is certainly not for straight people. But honestly it’s not for some queer people either. And that’s okay! Throughout his career Pedro Almodóvar has been accused of misogyny by some and celebrated for his focus on women by others. Personally I find it fascinating to watch Almodóvar grapple with self-hatred around his own shamed femininity. His debut film might be his most offensive, but it’s also his most irreverently queer. After Pepi is raped by a police officer, she recruits her lesbian friend to turn the officer’s repressed wife gay. A rape/revenge film with a queer twist, Almodóvar never settles for easy answers. Within the madcap tone, there’s a brutal and melancholy truth to how the story turns. But above all else it is a comedy. A comedy where a lesbian punk singer urinates on a policeman’s wife!
7. All Over Me (Alex Sichel)
“Less successful at portraying indecision than it is at inducing boredom.” – John Hartl, Film.com
A film doesn’t have to be campy to be formally queer. Alex Sichel was given a grant by the Princess Grace Foundation to make a movie about the riot grrrl music scene and instead she made a riot grrrl movie. Even the cinematography and sound design feel dykey. (I don’t know what that means exactly but it’s true!) The soundtrack does not disappoint, of course, and this movie has both a painful “in love with my straight(?) friend” storyline and a “first love with a dyke in a band” storyline. And the dyke in the band is played by Leisha Hailey with pink hair. I know! This movie actually got pretty good reviews by straight critics, but positive reviews don’t cut it. This deserves continued accolades and at the very least a streaming release. It’s so sweet and sad and angsty and GAY. I believe Alex Sichel made this movie for queer people. I also believe she made it for me, personally, which was super nice of her.
6. Women in Revolt (Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol, Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling)
“A madcap soap opera whose three manic heroines are played by female impersonators—which may be interpreted as the ultimate put-down of women’s lib.” – Vincent Canby, New York Times
Paul Morrisey and Andy Warhol cast Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn, and Candy Darling in this movie as a “fuck you” to the feminist movement. What better parody of women than these gay men who every day make a mockery of women? Except, of course, they weren’t gay men mocking women but rather a genderqueer person and two trans women being themselves. So this film, intended to simply lampoon the women’s movement, instead becomes a hilarious, outrageous, and brutal portrayal of how trans feminine people face discrimination as women/women-adjacent and as trans people. The feminist movement is certainly mocked, but not in relation to men. It’s mocked in relation to the trans women and non-binary people who are regularly excluded. The three actors really do steal the movie from Morrisey and Warhol and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch. It’s rare to see a movie explicitly made for queer people, but it’s even rarer to see a movie explicitly made for trans people, especially from 1971. And despite the best efforts of its director and producer that’s what this movie became.
5. The filmography of Barbara Hammer (Barbara Hammer)
Barbara Hammer was virtually ignored by the art world from 1968 to 1985. The absence of a review is a type of review.
When I was first brainstorming for this list I jotted down “pick a Barbara Hammer film.” But when I read that note again my brain yelled, “I won’t do it!” so I’m not going to do it. Hammer’s entire filmography is that of an artist, a queer artist, with no concern for reception. The way she shoots sex and bodies is so far removed from a male gaze I chuckle imagining a straight dude trying to get off on one of her films. Whether discussing sex or breast cancer or political responsibility, Hammer and her work remain a guide to being an unforgiving queer artist. I’m unsure whether this is due to her wishes or a lack of interest, but none of her work is available online and if she would’ve been okay with it I hope that changes soon. (And, okay, if I was forced to pick favorites I’d go with Psychosynthesis, The History of the World According to a Lesbian, and, of course, Dyketactics.) (Also I’m still thinking about Whitney Pow’s essay on Hammer and you should really read it!)
4. MURDER and Murder (Yvonne Rainer)
“It’s not that these smart, complicated women are unlikable. It’s that their private little soap opera is not especially charismatic.” – Stephen Holden, New York Times
Any movie that begins with a 60-something lesbian saying to her straight friend, “I love eating pussy” is an automatic masterpiece in my book. And the rest of the film really lives up to that opening. A celebration of the day to day and ups and downs of a partnership, Rainer’s last feature follows Doris and Mildred as they navigate their relationship. They are accompanied by a Greek chorus of Doris’ mother, Mildred’s younger self, and Yvonne Rainer the filmmaker. It’s a complex, experimental, and ever so sweet film. The movie more or less takes the stance that all women can be and should be lesbians and that’s something I can certainly get behind. Also Congressperson Pete Hoekstra used it as an excuse to cut funding from the NEA which is unfortunately always a good sign.
3. But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit)
“I would have preferred to know more in documentary terms about the actual reality of these terrible camps, rather than sit through this heavy-handed and oddly lenient comedy.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
What else is there to say about Jamie Babbit’s debut? Except maybe to remind you all that when this came out critics fucking hated it. Among my friends, But I’m a Cheerleader is a universally accepted masterpiece so it’s easy to forget how it was initially received. Like with Cameron Post, critics seemed offended that Babbit would approach the topic of conversion therapy with a sense of humor. But for queer people, who are plenty well-versed in reality thank you very much, this very funny and very sweet movie is an absolute gem. The best of the straights, Natasha Lyonne, is great as ever and the supporting cast which includes Clea Duvall, Michelle Williams, and RuPaul is great as well. Certainly accepted now as a cult classic I think it’s time we acknowledge it simply as a classic classic.
2. Multiple Maniacs (John Waters)
“Humor he has. It’s just a shame he has chosen to ignore that for the brutality which is not, as he and his audiences may think, a gas.” – Lou Cedrone, The Baltimore Sun
John Waters’ second feature and first “talkie” begins with a career thesis statement. Cishet suburban normals are led through “The Cavalcade of Perversion,” a free exhibit of fetishes and shocks that includes a puke eater and ends with Divine robbing the patrons at gun point. This scene couldn’t be clearer in saying “fuck you” to a mainstream audience. The rest of the film continues at this level of mayhem including my favorite scene and one of my very favorite sex scenes of all time. Genderqueer lesbian sex scenes are few and far between and only this one features a rosary used as anal beads. Not for cishet eyes that is for certain!
1. Mommy is Coming (Cheryl Dunye)
On Rotten Tomatoes, Cheryl Dunye’s most recent feature has a grand total of 0 reviews.
When I started compiling this list I immediately knew this would be #1. Cheryl Dunye has always been a filmmaker aware of her place in the film world. Her breakout hit (and my personal favorite movie of all time), The Watermelon Woman, directly engages with film history and much of her work features fourth-wall-breaking interludes that emphasize the actual making of the movies. Dunye is an artist who thinks about who she is creating for and how it will be received. And she’s definitely creating for queers.
Written with Sarah Schulman, Mommy is Coming is a taboo farce about a couple (played by Lil Harlow and Papi Coxxx) who go on separate sexual adventures through Berlin. It’s a celebration of queer sex in all its forms and a declaration of purpose within queer cinema. It feels a bit silly to get serious about a film so fun, but movies like this and like a lot of the films on this list are deeply important. A lot of queer acceptance has been conditional. We’re allowed to be queer as long as we don’t talk about it or as long as we don’t show it or as long as we act like everyone else. As a queer person, it’s a relief to watch work like this. It gives us permission to just be free, to just be queer, to just be ourselves. That’s what great queer cinema can accomplish.
What’d I miss? Let us know your favorite heterophobic movies in the comments!