5 Queer Directors To Watch Out For

Not all directors get the recognition they deserve.

Not all directors get the recognition they deserve. We were reminded of that this year when The Academy snubbed Greta Gerwig for Best Director. But I can’t help but think about the fact that The Barbie Movie racked up over a billion dollars at the box office. In my opinion, Gerwig did not need that nomination. (The famous Mad Men line “that’s what the money’s for” comes to mind.) 

There are queer directors without an institution like Mattel behind them, working to create gripping and moving images for the big screen. Here are 5 of them to look out for.    

D. Smith 

A two time Grammy nominated producer, D. Smith was blackballed from the industry when she decided to transition, forcing her to pivot artistically. So she picked up a camera and turned it back on the world. Her directorial debut, Kokomo City is a visually exhilarating documentary about Black trans sex workers in Atlanta and New York City, an exploration of why trans women are overrepresented in this industry. It’s shot in a stunning high contrast black and white and edited by Smith herself. It is a film filled to the brim with musicality, a poetic and radical truth being told to you casually by a friend. Smith creates a piercing dynamic between four women; Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell, and Dominique Silver, by threading the reality of their profession with the reality of their full lives. 

Kokomo City is streaming and available for purchase. 

Stewart Thorndike

If no one else is, Stewart Thorndike is on the mission of queering genre films. Her first feature Lyle was a sort of queer Rosemary’s Baby starring Gaby Hoffman that premiered to praise at Outfest Los Angeles in 2014. In her second film, Bad Things, she turns the messiness of queer love and friendship into a bloody affair when a lesbian couple inherits a haunted hotel. The film premiered at Tribeca in 2023 and is visually imaginative as well as meticulously characterized. It draws on the very real complicated dynamics of having half your friend group be exes. With Hari Nef and Gayle Rankin starring, and Molly Ringwald as a ubiquitous TedTalk badass, the film is a hallmark of classic horror with a gay spin. 

Bad Things is streaming. 

Erica Tremblay

As one of the voices behind FX’s Reservation Dogs, Erica Tremblay demonstrates an acute ability for coming of age narratives. Although her previous work was mostly in documentaries, Tremblay’s storytelling has always been deeply intimate, with traces of her own life as a queer Native woman. Her first feature Fancy Dance, starring Academy Award Nominee Lily Gladstone, feels like a holistic culmination of all her previous work. The film is at once a family drama, a road film, and a murder mystery — yet never feels overstretched or cluttered. After a stunning premiere at Sundance in 2023 and almost a year in limbo, Apple has finally acquired the distribution rights.

Fancy Dance is coming to theaters and streaming in 2024.

Jane Schoenbrun

A writer and critic at Filmmaker magazine first, Jane Schoenbrun’s progression into directing felt inevitable. Their directorial debut was a documentary about Slender Man called A Self Induced Hallucination.  Their first narrative feature, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair explores internet aesthetics and trans perspectives. An eerie homage to low budget horror, it premiered at Sundance in 2021 before landing on HBO Max. Their next feature, I Saw the TV Glow, stars Justice Smith and Bridegt Lundy-Paine as a pair of teenagers whose grasp on reality loosens after their favorite show mysteriously gets canceled. After its Sundance Premiere earlier this year, it is set to have an international premiere at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival. 

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is streaming. I Saw The TV Glow will be distributed by A24 in 2024. 

Isabel Sandoval 

Filipina actress and director Isabel Sandoval’s films are both thematically universal and intimately personal; featuring themes of love and identity. With her 2019 feature, Lingua Franca, she became the first out trans woman of color to compete at the Venice Film Festival. It received a nomination for the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards. In the film, Sandoval stars  as a caregiver who falls in love with her patient’s grandson. The film is distinctive, and emotionally complex with melancholy built into its world. Her presence on screen is so haunting, it’s a wonder she was working both sides of the camera. 

Lingua Franca is streaming.

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