Thanks to the success of shows like Pose, our community is sharing stories of trans people in exciting new ways. However, transgender-focused films have also enjoyed remarkable success over the years. That said, when some of the pictures were first released, many people would not have been familiar with the concept of trans identity. Some audiences saw them as simply “gay” or “drag” films; others may have appreciated them simply as movies with great plot twists and touching stories. Nevertheless, we humbly share our nominees for the top 11 trans cinematic experiences. We invite you to share your feelings about your own favorite LGBTQ books, films and music through this form:
Call Her Ganda (2018)
LGBTQ filmmaker PJ Raval explores the life and brutal murder of Filipina transgender woman Jennifer Laude by a U.S. Marine. The film makes the point that such tragedies seem to occur wherever troops are stationed worldwide. Occasionally, such troops meet overwhelming protest (as in Okinawa, Japan). However, this may be the first time anyone has delved into one of the many tragedies, allowing audiences to see the real face of U.S. Imperialism.
This film was originally supposed to be an eco-film about Vermont’s transition to one of the world’s first smart grids. But when CEO Dave Hallquist realizes he could no longer continue living as a man in a very male industry, the film gains a parallel plot structure. This amazing documentary is the first feature film directed by the subject’s son Derek Hallquist. It is the first film ever to document a CEO’s transition to becoming a woman. Christine Hallquist has since gone on to become the first transgender person to win a major party’s nomination for governor. Keep an eye out for an appearance by presidential hopeful, Senator Bernie Sanders.
The Danish Girl (2015)
The Danish Girl tells the story of the first transgender experimental surgery, ultimately unsuccessful. It is a touching story very loosely based on actual events. The film is highly stylized, a bit too highly for some tastes, featuring a ravishingly beautiful art nouveau setting, achingly beautiful costume design, and Oscar nominated performances by Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.
This could be a very liberating film for transgender people who have decided gender reassignment surgery is not the right path for them. It turns out that some transgender people actually end up feeling alienated from their bodies after their surgeries. The film features an in-depth discussion with two transgender people who regret having had the procedures. Regretters Orlando and Mikael went under the knife in hope of finding their true selves. Now in their 60s, the two meet for the first time to talk about their lives and their mutual source of regret.
Hedwig & the Angry Inch (2001)
This groundbreaking piece of trans-themed theater didn’t do so well at the box office when it became a movie musical at the turn of the millenium. But the piece made a huge impression when reimagined for the Great White Way in 2014. It even took home four Tony Awards. The film stands as a testament to the brilliance of its co-creator and star John Cameron Mitchell. Innovations include an animated sequence illustrating Plato’s gender theory and a truly exultant ending in which its leads embrace self-acceptance.
All About My Mother (1999)
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Like almost all of Almodovar’s films, this is a fascinating and emotionally satisfying romp into the lives of its characters. This is true despite the film’s heavy subject matter. It revolves around a mother donating the organs of her son, who has been killed in an accident. She then heads out in search of her son’s other parent, who is now living under the name “Lola”. All About My Mother. won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film of the year and features world class acting, a superb musical score, and always-crisp dialogue.
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Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
This excellent, if tragic, film is based on a true story. It is best-remembered for its Oscar-winning performance by Hilary Swank and Oscar-nominated performance by Chloë Sevigny. The film made waves when it was initially given an NC-17 rating. Nonetheless, sufficient changes were made to the film for it to be released with an R rating, and it remains a stirring piece of art.
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)
A fantastic film to behold, then and now, it was an unexpected hit at a time when it probably shouldn’t have been. This super-fun road trip follows the titular bus Priscilla, two drag queens named Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) and Felicia (Guy Pearce), and a transgender woman called Bernadette (Terrence Stamp) as they cross the Australian desert to perform a drag show at a resort in far-off Alice Springs.
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Gay culture as we know it today was shaped by this celebration of the 1980s ballroom scene enshrined in this spectacular documentary. It is alive with authenticity, as underscored by Cheryl Lynn’s classic song on the soundtrace, “Got To Be Real.” Everyone from Madonna to the creators of Pose have drawn inspiration from the enduring style flaunted in Paris Is Burning.
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
This unusual movie primarily takes place within a Latin American jail cell in a country under a harsh military dictatorship. And most of its action consists of cellmates simply talking. One is a transgender woman convicted of corrupting a minor. The other is a Marxist convicted of revolutionary activities. The pair genuinely connect and develop real affection for one another. This was the first independent film ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Many still feel it should have won. Nevertheless, William Hurt won an Oscar for Best Actor, Héctor Babenco won Best Director, and Leonard Schrader won for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film is one of the most powerful in cinematic history.
The Dybbuk (1937)
This may be the original cinematic exploration of what it means to defy traditional definitions of gender. It’s a surprisingly religious film made in Poland just before WWII and is recognized as one of the greatest Yiddish films ever made. A dybbuk (which literally means “cling”) is a words for a malicious spirit believed to be the soul of a dead person. This supernatural phenomenon is the explanation offered for why a grieving bride suddenly seems to no longer be recognizable as a woman. Its wedding scene is acclaimed as one of the finest examples of German Expressionism in film. Currently the story is also enjoying a resurgence on the stage with a few plot changes.
Tell us what you would add to (or subtract from) our list in the comments below:
Last modified: April 2, 2019