This Pride Month, we want to take time to recount and share some of the best of LGBTQI+ and End-of-Life cinematography. After conducting research (i.e. eating loads of popcorn and watching movies), it was a surprise to discover that there are actually quite a few films that wed LGBTQI+ and end-of-life thematics together.
Generally, most of the popular LGBTQI+ movie canon consists of recent pieces like Uncle Frank, an Amazon original movie released in 2020, and of course the well known 2017 movie, Call Me By Your Name. There are, however, many older LGBTQI+ movies as well worth checking out like The Killing of Sister George (1968), and even movies that weren’t shown originally at the cinema, like Prayers for Bobby, that are worth watching.
Below are some of our favourite LGBTQI+ movies that deal with or touch on death. Many of these films can be accessed on Amazon or Netflix. From stories of individuals struggling with AIDs to movies that overtly revolve around a funeral, we’ve handpicked our top 10 –– so sit back, relax and we hope you enjoy these cathartic films.
*Please be aware, there may be spoilers*
1. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) directed by: Bryan Singer, Dexter Fletcher
With his impeccable vocal talent, Freddie Mercury and famous band, Queen, achieve superstardom. Despite his skyrocketing success, Freddie finds himself grappling with his sexuality, his ego, and a fatal illness.
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was met with numerous accolades when it was released, including leading 4 awards at the 91st Academy Awards (Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Picture).
2. Rent (2005) directed by: Chris Colombus
Rent, the movie, takes place at the onset of the 1990s. A group of New Yorkers are struggling with their careers, their love lives, and the detrimental and heartbreaking effects of AIDS within their community.
In the film, Mark – a burgeoning filmmaker – and Roger – an HIV-positive musician, hustle to find money to pay rent to their landlord and former roommate. All the while, their friend – a professor – has fallen for someone who is slowly dying of AIDS.
3. Prayers for Bobby (2009) directed by: Russell Mulcahy
In this adaptation of a true story, devout Christian Mary Griffith (Sigourney Weaver) fights to “cure” her gay son, Bobby (Ryan Kelley). Although he tries to please his mother, Bobby cannot change his lifestyle, and his depression leads to an untimely death.
Prayers for Bobby, despite being a television film, was watched by over 6 million people during its first two-day run. The movie received positive reviews from critics and was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards.
4. Eloïse’s Lover (2009) directed by: Jesus Garay
Eloïse’s Lover, is about a character named, Àsia, a beautiful young architecture student who then finds herself inexplicably drawn to an ad for a life model posted by art student and “openly gay, mysterious and exotic.”
The two bond over several sessions in which Eloïse sketches the fully clothed Àsia. Soon, though, Eloïse says that she’s happy with the sketches, but says they cannot go further and suggests Àsia models for her nude. Àsia gradually falls in love with Eloïse, decides to leave her boyfriend to embark on a beautiful new future with her where they both face elements of grief and even death.
(Eloïse’s Lover Trailer)
5. How to Survive a Plague (2012) directed by: David France
The HIV virus hit the gay community around the same time that the personal camcorder hit retail shelves — which is one reason David France’s Oscar-nominated film about the formation of activist organization groups ACT UP and TAG (Treat Action Group) has such a shattering impact. There is so much in-the-moment footage from which to construct his narrative, and the movement’s real-life figures — among them Mark Harrington, Peter Staley, Spencer Cox, Ann Northrop — are recorded taking to the streets and fighting for their lives.
6. Uncle Frank (2020) directed by: Alan Ball
Accompanied by his teenage niece, a gay literature professor, Frank, reluctantly returns home to attend his father’s funeral. Frank’s relationship with his family is complex, through the film you can see how they love each other and try to work together as best as they can.
Uncle Frank had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of 2020. It was released in November later that year by Amazon Studios.
7. Call Her Ganda (2018) directed by: P J Raval
When a transgender Filipina woman is found dead in a motel room and the leading suspect is a U.S. Marine, grassroots activists demand accountability. The ensuing case lays bare political tensions between the United States and the Philippines.
8. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017) directed by: David France
LGBT+ rights activist Victoria Cruz investigates the mysterious death of black gay rights activist and Stonewall veteran, Marsha P. Johnson, who was a central figure in the Stonewall riots. Her body was found in the Hudson river shortly after Gay Pride in 1992.
Using archival interviews with Johnson, and new interviews with Johnson’s family, friends and fellow activists, Cruz unravels what happened to Marsha while celebrating her life and achievements.
9. Milk (2018) directed by: Gus Van Sant
The movie attempts to put Milk’s life to film followed a 1984 documentary of his life and the aftermath of his assassination, titled The Times of Harvey Milk, which was loosely based upon Randy Shilts‘s 1982 biography, The Mayor of Castro Street (the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 1984.
10. A Fantastic Woman (2017) directed by: Sebastián Lelio
A woman’s life is thrown into turmoil following the death of her partner. Mourning the loss of the man she loved, she finds herself under intense scrutiny from those with no regard for her privacy.
The film was selected as the Chilean entry for Best Foreign Language Film, where it won the 90th Academy Award.
(A Fantastic Woman, trailer)
Depictions of queer and trans people have been present in the film for over 100 years. However, due to censorship and varying degrees of prejudices against the LGBTQI+ community at different points in time, representation on the screen has a long, complicated, and often convoluted history. We hope to bring to light some of the most amazing LGBTQI+ films which deal with, in some way or another, grieving and death.
To read about LGBTQI+ communities, please read our latest piece about protecting LGBTQI+ identities within the funeral industry, as well as our newly launched Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statement, here.