9 powerful Black queer history films to add to your watch list

From award-winning blockbusters to trailblazing documentaries, there's something for everyone in this list of Black queer history films.

Split screen of stills from three Black queer history films. Left is Rustin, middle is Paris Is Burning, right is The Aggressives.
Image: (Left to right) @strongblacklead via X, @designmuseum via X, IMDB

If you’re looking to dive into the fascinating world of Black queer history, films can be a great place to start! From rousing documentaries to emotional biopics and award-winning blockbusters, we’ve rounded up a list of some of our favourites to entertain and inform you in equal measure.

This new Netflix biopic spotlights the life and work of Bayard Rustin, who, despite facing racism and homophobia as an openly gay Black man, changed the course of Civil Rights history by orchestrating the 1963 March on Washington. Colman Domingo, also gay, has received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the film, making history as the first Afro-Latino person to do so.

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin
For those who prefer documentaries, this film also tells the story of Bayard Rustin but through rare archival footage and provocative interviews. It highlights his activism and work as Martin Luther King Jr’s advisor, as well as why his sexuality forced him to remain in the background of the Civil Rights movement.

Paris Is Burning
One of the most iconic LGBTQ+ films ever, Paris Is Burning chronicles the ballroom and drag house culture of 1980s New York City. It is considered essential viewing for the queer community and is particularly notable for centring the stories of Black and Latinx gay and trans youth.

The Color Purple
Although not technically a history film per se, this coming-of-age period drama follows the struggles of an African American woman living in the Southern states during the early 1900s. It is based on the 1982 novel of the same name which has a lesbian romance at its core and inspired a stage musical and a 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg.

The Aggressives
The Aggressives follows a group of masculine presenting and/or identifying people of colour who were assigned female at birth. Filmed in New York between 1997 and 2004, this pioneering documentary is a must-watch for those interested in Black queer history films.

This HBO TV film focuses on the life of American blues singer Bessie Smith, played by Queen Latifah. The biopic deals with themes of childhood trauma, race, gender and bisexuality while examining how the Tennessee native rose to fame in the ’20s and ’30s.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
Using a mixture of archival and new interviews, this documentary investigates the suspicious death of Marsha P. Johnson and explores the trailblazing work of the Stonewall veteran. The activist is spotlighted alongside Sylvia Rivera, both prominent figures in the US gay and transgender liberation movement.

Tongues Untied
Tongues Untied is a 1989 experimental documentary that gave voice to Black gay men in America. Through a mixture of archival footage, personal accounts and poetry, the film allowed its participants to present their cultures and perspectives on the world as they confronted racism, homophobia and marginalisation.

We conclude our list with the history-making Moonlight. The coming-of-age drama is the first film featuring a completely non-white cast to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and is similarly one of the first with an LGBTQ+ lead character to receive Hollywood’s top prize.

That rounds off our list of some incredible Black queer history films to add to your watch list. Happy viewing!

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