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5 important, inspiring and life-affirming LGBT+ dramas retelling unforgettable chapters of queer history

Sponsored December 16, 2020
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Film reels showing images from the five films in this article

PinkNews picks five of the best LGBT+ historical dramas. (PinkNews/Audible/Focus/Lionsgate/20th Century Studios/Happy Birthday, Marsha)

From Stonewall trailblazer Marsha P Johnson to queer female pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read, here are five chapters of queer history retold for a modern audience.

LGBT+ figures have long been erased from history books, hidden away and sometimes completely forgotten.

But in recent decades, queer historical icons have been brought back to life through film, TV shows and even audio dramas, finally giving their legacies the recognition they deserve.

Here are five of the most inspiring and gripping historical LGBT+ dramas for your enjoyment.

Queer female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read in Hell Cats.

 Michelle Fox as Anne Bonny with Erin Doherty as Mary Read

Michelle Fox plays Anne Bonny with Erin Doherty as Mary Read. (Audible)

Audible Original podcast Hell Cats tells the true story of notorious female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, and their queer romance that was, until now, buried by history.

The two women blazed a trail through the high seas, leaving behind a trail of plundered treasures, outfoxed authorities and scorned ex-lovers.

Read was born into poverty in England at the end of the 17th century, with Bonny raised in similar circumstances in nearby Ireland.

Both were raised as boys to give them a better chance in life, but through dramatic twists of fate, found their way to piracy and to each other.

Hell Cats is a 14-episode audio drama that brings to life the incredible forgotten lives of the pair

Director Kate Saxon said the story is “as beautiful in its moments of love and loss as it is exciting in its romps on the high seas”.

“The characters and their stories feel as relevant today as ever and are vividly brought to life by a fantastic cast,” Saxon added.

“Anne Bonny and Mary Read, in their choice to live as they wished and love whom they desired, are iconic trailblazers and showed conviction and self-belief in a time that offered women so little.”

Trans trailblazer Marsha P Johnson in Happy Birthday, Marsha.

Trans actress Mya Taylor stars in Happy Birthday, Marsha. (Happy Birthday, Marsha)

The 2018 short film Happy Birthday, Marsha, starring trans actor Mya Taylor, follows iconic artist and activist Marsha P Johnson during the lead up to the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York.

Johnson, a Black trans woman, civil rights activist, drag queen and sex worker, was one of the queer folks who protested against violent police who had raided the Stonewall Inn on 28 June, 1969, assaulting and harassing queer people of colour for simply existing.

In 1970, she founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries otherwise known as STAR, with her friend and fellow activist Sylvia Rivera.

The organisation helped trans and queer youth who had been rejected by their families and left homeless.

Happy Birthday, Marsha’s creators, including trans filmmaker Reina Gossett, said in a statement: “It’s been over 45 years since the Stonewall Uprising yet the leading role that street queens, trans women of colour and gender non-conforming people played during the riots has never received the recognition it deserves.

“By making Happy Birthday, Marsha, we are seeking to change that. We truly believe how we tell the stories of our heroes matters, so we are drawing upon our community to make this film because we have an opportunity to make a movie written, directed and produced by people living Sylvia [Rivera, Johnson’s friend and fellow activist] and Marsha’s legacy through our own work.

“This is the first time trans women of colour are on both sides of the camera. ”

San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk in Milk.

Sean Penn as Harvey Milk
Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. (Focus)

Milk is an Oscar-winning biographical film on the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly LGBT+ person to hold public office in California, and one of the first openly gay elected officials in the history of the US.

Tragically, less than a year after being elected to the board of supervisors in 1977, he was fatally shot by his former city supervisor opponent, Dan White.

Set in 1972, Milk stars Sean Penn and Josh Brolin and traces Milk’s career from his 40th birthday to his death.

The film was met with near-universal acclaim when it first came out, with Variety calling it “adroitly and tenderly observed”, “smartly handled”, and “most notable for the surprising and entirely winning performance by Sean Penn”.

Palaeontologist Mary Anning in Ammonite.

Ammonite: First image of Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan as lesbian lovers
Kate Winslet as Mary Anning and Saoirse Ronan as her lesbian lover in upcoming romantic drama Ammonite. (Lionsgate)

The upcoming film Ammonite, from God’s Own Country director Francis Lee, tells the story of Mary Anning: a palaeontologist who made several important discoveries during her lifetime, but whose gender and social status undermined her achievements in the eyes of Victorian society.

Anning never married and had several close female relationships. Although there is no concrete evidence that she was queer, Lee in part created the film to flatten efforts to “straighten” queer history.

“Given a historical figure where there is no evidence whatsoever of a heterosexual relationship, is it not permissible to view that person within another context?” he asked.

“Particularly a woman whose work and life were subjected to the worst aspects of patriarchy, class discrimination and gender imbalance.”

The film stars Kate Winslet as Anning with Saoirse Ronan as the geologist Charlotte Murchison, thought to be her lover.

Winslet decided to take on the role just 12 hours after reading the Ammonite script, and said: “It’s a story about women speaking up, speaking out.

“I think uncovering stories where women were repressed in such a systemic way is highlighting how history has covered up those successes. We’re not going to do that anymore, world.”

Alfred Kinsey, creator of the Kinsey scale, in Kinsey.

Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey
Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey (20th Century Studios)

This film tells the true story of biology professor Alfred Kinsey, a key figure in LGBT+ history and a pioneer in the area of human sexuality research who developed the Kinsey scale to describe a person’s sexual orientation.

He was the first person in the scientific community to consider that there was more to sex and attraction than just heterosexuality and homosexuality.

The film follows Kinsey as he develops his then-controversial theories, which would prove to be an incredibly significant development in the understanding of LGBT+ identities.

Related topics: ammonite, hell cats, Kinsey, LGBT history, milk, sponsored

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