These Black Queer and Trans Movies Give Us Hope For 2019

Black queer and trans centered films to get you into the revelatory spirit.

Photo by Happy Birthday, Marsha!

Let’s be honest, 2018 was a lot for Black queer folks, both in the U.S. and the world at large. But it was also a landmark year for queer and trans representation in TV and film. With shows like Pose on FX and some traction being made in the movement to have more films with trans actors playing trans roles, what better inspiration than Black queer and trans centered films to get you into the revelatory spirit and to claim your space to thrive this year. We made a list of some that we love. And we think you’re gonna love them too.

Home?

Created and directed by Elliot Blue, Home? is in part an exploration of Blackness in Germany and the ways cultural whitewashing of the past can simultaneously erase and hyper-visualize Black bodies. Its narration is unapologetic yet tender and childlike, explaining the details of Germany’s historical relationships to genocide and racism in a way that is not exactly emotional but erudite and sensitive.

In his own words, Blue tells GO, “In Germany, people like to pretend racism doesn’t exist because we don’t get shot by the police so often as in the U.S. The general German discourse thinks all racism comes from Neo-Nazis, while negating their own colonial history and the fact that Germans can be of color. This leads to countless experiences of everyday and institutional racism for people of color living in Germany and a constant battle for a feeling of belonging. With Home? I wanted to make our story heard, seen, and felt. As a self-affirmation and a statement: ‘We exist, and we will always exist’ and we deserve recognition.”

Happy Birthday, Marsha!

Happy Birthday, Marsha! is written and directed by Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel from an archive of research they conducted on the iconic transgender artist and activist Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson and her life in the hours before she ignited the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Despite having had some of their research stolen, Tourmaline and Wortzel maintain an unapologetic and tenacious grasp on their goals, both as artists and in creating the film.

Part of what makes Happy Birthday, Marsha! so important is its ability to capture Marsha P. Johnson‘s legacy in a way that links it back to trans people’s lives today—and in a way that’s unmitigated by the white cisgender lens. Tourmaline said in a statement on her website, “As queer and trans artists, […] our work addresses the systematic erasure of rich legacies of trans and queer activism and art by creating artworks that revisit and re-imagine these stories […] It’s been over 45 years since the Stonewall Uprising yet the leading role that street queens, trans women of color, 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.”

Atlantic is a Sea of Bones

A beautiful work of theoretical short film, Atlantic is a Sea of Bones examines “The Atlantic Ocean as a necropolitical archive of slavery.” It was created as part of Visual AIDS’ Day With(out) Art 2017 and stars Egypt LaBeija. The first time I saw it I was floored by its ability to marry temporal periods and to affect the realities of those periods with avant-garde sensuality and somatic imagery. I just had to watch the film over and over, feeling all the feels. I was so obsessed with the spellbinding and mercurial movements and poetic Black queer opulence of Fatima Jamal and Egypt LaBeija.

Tourmaline, creator and director of the film, describes Egypt’s trajectory as she, “time travels through water—the oceanic—dramatizing how blackness queers and trans-figures temporality.” Atlantic is a Sea of Bones is a thoughtful exploration you can watch at home. Don’t forget to contribute a donation to Tourmaline’s work and to further the creation of representations of transcestor legacies.

Punks

Punks is a Black gay campy romantic comedy serving jubilation and eleganza for the culture! It’s the story of four Black queer besties on a quest for the perfect relationship. Having been the inspiration for all your faves (Noah’s Arc, Queer as Folk, The L Word, etc.), Punks recreates the traditional story of the never-ending search for Mr. Right with Black queer flair, wigs, and deliciously witty comebacks. Although it’s definitely not the most recent movie on this list, it’s one you’ll want to be sure to take with you into 2019. So call up some friends and have an impromptu slumber party or movie night! Don’t forget that giant bag of popcorn, darling!

No Fats, No Fems

In No Fats, No Fems Fatima Jamal intones a rousing f*ck you to all who seek to undervalue and exploit “blessed” Black fems in all walks of life. She smoothly delivers a litany of praise to all those who embody Blackness and queerness and femmeness, saying, “Blessed are the sissies, blessed are the boy-dykes, blessed are the trans, blessed are the hi-fems […] Blessed are the disabled, blessed are the hot fat girls, blessed are the weirdo queers.”

She and her cast of glowingly melanated fellow Black queer and trans fems (including artist and activist/community organizer Joshua Allen and poet, model, artist, and activist Aurel Haize Odogobo) vogue in space as vanguards to the counter-culture of radical Black queer power and de-colonialized desirability politics. They don’t ask for permission to exist or to be loved the way they deserve to be. They show you with style and grace that Blackness is inextricably linked to queerness and that they are dripping in the love of their transcestors and of those who see their beauty and capability for what it is: fucking fabulous.

Rafiki

This movie is incredibly fun and has been generating so much buzz. Banned (and then later unbanned) in Kenya, it’s the love story of Kena and Ziki, two Kenyan girls with big dreams who fall for each other. Despite the gossip of religious and political objections to their closeness swirling through their community, the two manage to dance and play and express their innermost thoughts and ambitions with each other, exploring all of the joy that comes with being young and in love for the first time. Between the visual complexity and beauty and the power of the relationships between the characters, this will give you everything in abundance. Queer romantic films are my absolute favorite, and Rafiki is one that definitely delivers. It’s simply not to be missed.

Many of these films don’t just counter prescribed narratives about Black folks but open up a creative world of possibility that transforms that narrative into pleasure. We hope you find pleasure too, in this New Year. Luckily, with so many films starring Black folks to anticipate this year, 2019 looks like it’s going to be a year of even more representation and Black queer content to get you feeling right.


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