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Shirley Clarke's A Portrait of Jason is considered to be one of the earliest, seminal documentaries to capture black homosexuality on film. Of course, talk show host and programs such as Tony Brown's Journal, Oprah, Donohue, Ricki Lake, and others have provided a platform for up and coming LGBTQA+ filmmakers to come out of the closet and tell their stories.  Black filmmakers/producers such as Lee Daniels, Cheryl Dunye, Barry Jenkins, Dee Rees, Marlon Riggs, Angela Robinson, Justin Simien, and Lena Waithe are just a few who are breaking down barriers and creating some of the best work in the field of cinema.

Images of LGBTQA+ Films


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IUB Streaming Titles

The following resources require IUB CAS Authentication.

Black Gays (26min, 1982) In this edition of Tony Brown's Journal, Tony Brown discusses being black and gay with several black gay people.

Black Is...Black Ain't ( 87min., 1995) The final film by filmmaker Marlon Riggs, Black Is...Black Ain't, jumps into the middle of explosive debates over Black identity. Black Is...Black Ain't is a film every African American should see, ponder and discuss.  White Americans have always stereotyped African Americans. But the rigid definitions of "Blackness" that African Americans impose on each other, Riggs claims, have also been devastating. Is there an essential Black identity? Is there a litmus test defining the real Black man and true Black woman?

Brother Outsider ( 85min, 2002)  On November 20, 2013, Bayard Rustin was posthumously awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. Who was this man? He was there at most of the important events of the Civil Rights Movement - but always in the background. Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin asks "Why?" It presents a vivid drama, intermingling the personal and the political, about one of the most enigmatic figures in 20th-century American history.

Green Book  (130min., 2018) Peter Farrelly's Oscar winning film stars Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali.   During the 1960s, a bouncer, whose nightclub closes for renovations, finds a temporary employment as a driver for black pianist Don Shirley going on a tour into the Deep South states.

I Am Not Your Negro ( 94min, 2016)  An Oscar-nominated documentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO explores the continued peril America faces from institutionalized racism.  In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends--Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin's death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.

If She Grows Up Gay (22min., 1983) Presents an intimate portrait of a nineteen-year-old black mother, her gay lover, and her young daughter living in New York City. The mother documents her experiences as a teenage parent and her adjustment into a lesbian relationship and new parenting situation for her child.

Moonlight ( 111min., 2016) This academy award winner for best motion picture of 2016 is the tender, heartbreaking story of a young black man's struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

Off the Straight and Narrow (64min., 1998) How are we to make sense of the transformation in gay representation - from virtual invisibility before 1970 to the "gay chic" of today? OFF THE STRAIGHT & NARROW is the first in-depth documentary to cast a critical eye over the growth of gay images on TV. Leading media scholars provide the historical and cultural context for exploring the social implications of these new representations.  OFF THE STRAIGHT & NARROW challenges viewers to consider the value and limits of available gay images: who is represented, what they get to say, and how people respond to them. The video is an invaluable tool for all educators interested in introducing students to issues of representation and diversity in the media.

Paris is Burning ( 78min., 1990) Where does voguing come from, and what, exactly, is throwing shade? This landmark documentary provides a vibrant snapshot of the 1980s through the eyes of New York City's African American and Latinx Harlem drag-ball scene. Made over seven years, PARIS IS BURNING offers an intimate portrait of rival fashion "houses," from fierce contests for trophies to house mothers offering sustenance in a world rampant with homophobia, transphobia, racism, AIDS, and poverty. Featuring legendary voguers, drag queens, and trans women--including Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, and Venus Xtravaganza--PARIS IS BURNING brings it, celebrating the joy of movement, the force of eloquence, and the draw of community.

Straight Up on the Downlow (25min., 2006) In a new book called 'Straight Up,' Michael Stevens, Sr., a Black preacher, takes a hard line stance on what has come to be known as the down-low phenomenon: Black men in a secret society who have sex with other men, but deny they are homosexual. Stevens feels that the leadership of the Black church and the Black family are now in danger because of homosexuality.

The Aggressives: The World of Lesbian Subcultures ( 74min, 2012) An insightful expose on the subculture of trans men, lesbian "butches" and their "femme" counterparts who tow the line between gender definitions. Filmed over five years in NYC during the late 90's and early 00's, the featured "Aggressives" share their dreams, secrets and deepest fears.

The Year We Thought About Love (69min., 2014) What happens when LGBTQ youth decide to create a play about queer love to tour to area high schools? The Hollywood Reporter writes that the play "shocks, entertains, and awes!" Our award-winning film reveals how the "powers of art elicit the most interactive, educational, funny, vibrant, experiential illustrations of real life for queers, and queers growing up." ( The theater troupe explores love - familial, romantic, and spiritual - with wit, candor, and a bit of attitude.

Explore more awesome documentaries and feature films via IUCAT as well as via IUB's licensed subscriptions to Films for Education, Kanopy and SWANK at Media Services Libguide to Streaming Databases.

IUB DVD/Video Films

During Covid, only IU faculty, staff and students can borrow materials from Media Services with a valid IU crimson card.  Face masks are required. Be sure to check with Media Services for hours.  VHS titles are housed off-site at ALF, and can be requested via IUCAT.  Possible keyword search:  African American Gays, African American Lesbians, Victims of Hate Crimes. Limit to film & video, dvd/videodisc, Bloomington campus.

A Litany for Survival the Life and Work of Audre Lorde ( 53min., 2006)  Audre Lorde, poet and lesbian-feminist talks about being lesbian and black in New York in the 1950s and her social/political activity. Includes conversations and readings by Lorde and comments by other writers and family members.

Bessie ( 135min., 2015) Focuses on Bessie Smith's (Queen Latifah) transformation from a struggling young singer into 'The Empress of the Blues', who became one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s and is an enduring icon today.

Dreams Deferred: the Sakia Gunn Film Project ( 54min., 2008) Sakia Gunn was a 15-year old African American lesbian who was murdered in a hate crime in Newark, New Jersey. On the night of May 11, 2003, Gunn was returning from a night out at the Christopher Street Piers in Greenwich Village, New York City with her friends. While waiting for the New Jersey Transit bus at the corner of Broad and Market Streets in downtown Newark, Gunn and her friend were propositioned by two men. The film includes the court hearing, arguments presented by both sides regarding the victim and the accused, and the sentencing.

Free Angela, and all political prisoners (2012) A ... docudrama that takes a gripping look at the historical incidents that created an international movement to free activist Angela Davis, and tells the story of social justice activism that lands her on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

James Baldwin The Price of the Ticket (87min., 2004) Presents a look at the life and influence of author James Baldwin, at once a major twentieth century American author, a Civil Rights activist and, for two crucial decades, a prophetic voice calling Americans, Black and white, to confront their shared racial tragedy. Through interviews with writers and friends, this documentary captures the passionate intellect and courageous writing of a man who was born Black, impoverished, gifted and gay.

Portrait of Jason ( 106min., 1967) This portrait of Jason Holliday, a black gay prostitute who dreams of a career as a nightclub performer, is drawn from twelve consecutive hours of filming in a New York City apartment. As he reminisces about his life, Holliday discusses his homosexuality and the gay subcultures in San Francisco and New York. He jokes with the off-screen filmmaker and crew and maintains a sense of humor even as he recalls hustling, heroin addiction, and jail time. Holliday also performs for the camera, impersonating female entertainers and movie personalities such as Mae West, Butterfly McQueen, and Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the wind.

The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye ( 73min., 2008)  Includes several experimental films and home movie clips to include: Janine: (Experimental documentary, 1990) The story of a black lesbian's relationship with a white, upper middle class high school girl, She don't fade: (Experimental narrative, 1991) A self-reflexive look at the sexuality of a young black lesbian, Vanilla sex: (Experimental documentary, 1992), Dunye's contribution to visual artist Shu Leah Cheng's video installation, and An untitled portrait: (Video montage, 1993) Dunye's relationship with her brother is examined in this mixture of appropriated film footage, super 8mm home movies & Dunye's special brand of humor.

The New Black (74min., 2013) Documentary that examines how the African-American community is grappling with the gay rights issue in light of the recent gay marriage movement and the fight over civil rights. The film documents activists, families and clergy on both sides of the campaign to legalize gay marriage and examines homophobia in the black community's institutional pillar-the black church and reveals the Christian right wing's strategy of exploiting this phenomenon in order to pursue an anti-gay political agenda.

The revival : women & the word ( 82min., 2016) Chronicles the US tour of a group of Black lesbian poets and musicians, who become present-day stewards of a historical movement to build community among queer women of color. Their journey to strengthen their community is enriched by insightful interviews with leading Black feminist thinkers and historians, including Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Nikki Finney, and Alexis Deveaux. As the group tours the country, the film reveals their aspirations and triumphs, as well as the unique identity challenges they face encompassing gender, race, and sexuality. This is a rarely seen look into a special sisterhood - one where marginalized voices are both heard and respected.

The Watermelon Woman ( 90min., 1996) Set in Philadelphia, The Watermelon Woman is the story of Cheryl (Cheryl Dunye), a twenty-something black lesbian struggling to make a documentary about Fae Richards, a beautiful and elusive 1930s black film actress popularly known as "The Watermelon Woman." While uncovering the meaning of Fae Richards' life, Cheryl experiences a total upheaval in her personal life. Her love affair with Diana (Guinevere Turner, Go Fish), a beautiful white woman, and her interactions with the gay and black communities, are subject to the comic yet biting criticism of her best friend Tamara (Valerie Walker). Meanwhile, each answer Cheryl discovers about the Watermelon Woman evokes a flurry of new questions about herself and her future.

Tongue's Untied (55min., 1989 ) In an experimental amalgam of rap music, street poetry, documentary film, and dance, a gay African-American man expresses what it is like to be gay and black in the United States. Although he deals with social ostracism and fear of AIDS, he affirms the beauty and significance of the gay black man. Originally produced in 1989.

Explore more titles related to this topic via IUCAT.

Internet Resources

African American LGBQT Resources (@University of Arizona) - provides access to a select list of Internet resources.

GLAAD LGBQT Resource List - GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love.

Kanopy LGBTQ Stories - online streaming platform of documentaries and film classics. @IU -- access to Kanopy titles are for educational and classroom use only.

LGBTQ+ Culture Center (@Indiana University) - Through the LGBTQ+ Culture Center, students will find a safe and welcoming learning environment that provides resources and support to help students successfully reach their educational goals. 

Organizations Serving the Black LGBQT+ Community - It Gets Better - The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth around the globe. Growing up isn’t easy, especially when you are trying to affirm and assert your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can be a challenging and isolating process – but, the good news is, no one has to do it alone.