Pride month continues with familiar faces who represent the best that LGBTQ+ cinema has to offer. Some are hard to love, some harder to let go, but all of them have profoundly touched the inner lives of the queer community pre and post-closet. An array of exceptional Hollywood talent brought these dynamic protagonists to life, further pushing queer storytelling into the mainstream embrace. Without further ado, here are the cinema’s 10 most outstanding LGBTQ+ characters.
10. Annette Bening as “Nic Allgood” in “The Kids Are All Right” (2010)
dir. Lisa Cholodenko
Fiercely protective of her non-traditional family, Nicole “Nic” Allgood (Annette Bening) is a devoted obstetrician who pours her hard earnings back into her family. Fighting against the devil of alcoholism, Nic’s demons are tested upon discovering her wife, Jules (Julianne Moore), is having an affair with their sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo).
Audiences understand her feeling of betrayal, not just from a loved one within her community, but also as a meticulous mother and spouse ensuring her household operates without hitch. What humanizes Nic is realizing that her temper and lack of appreciation for all Jules contributes nearly collapses everything. Nic’s plight is a reminder of how frightening it can be — especially as a career-woman lesbian — when life unravels after years spent solidifying it.
9. Richard E. Grant as “Jack Hock” in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (2018)
dir. Marielle Heller
Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) is a wonderful man with a terrible petty-crime streak. In Lee Israel, he finds a companion who accepts his imperfections and understands the need to survive in a socially unjust world. Jack has a limitless charm. Despite sometimes using it for shady business dealings, the zest of his spirit would make anyone happy to enjoy life even when misery is all that’s in front.
8. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee Rella in “Tangerine” (2015)
dir. Sean Baker
Mya Taylor as Alexandra picked up the bulk of awards notices, but her costar Kitana Kiki Rodriguez plays the lighting rod of the transgender female duo. Sin-Dee Rella is newly released from prison but has payback on her mind after Alexandra tells her of her boyfriend’s unfaithfulness. Now on a mission to confront this scumbag, Sin-Dee Rella navigates Los Angeles with fervent intent.
Sin-Dee Rella doesn’t let her marginalization stop her from speaking her truth and seeking retribution. In one of the greatest confrontation scenes of the 21st century, Sin-Dee shows she is never to be trifled with, embarrassing her boyfriend, his wife, mother-in-law, and accompanying relatives without a second’s hesitation. Thanks to Sin-Dee Rella’s no-holds-barred verbal whiplash, the transgender community is provided a voice to unleash their grievances upon cisgender men who cruelly use, abuse, and dispose of them once sexually satisfied.
7. Tom Hanks as “Andrew Beckett” in “Philadelphia” (1993)
dir. Jonathan Demme
Tom Hanks imbues pathos to his “All-American nice guy” persona playing Andrew Beckett, an exceptional lawyer who happens to have AIDS. Just after he was promoted and tasked with the most important client, Beckett is wrongfully terminated from one of the top litigation firms in the country after a colleague notices a lesion on his forehead. Beckett files a lawsuit against his former employers with the assistance of Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), a civil litigation attorney with his own prejudiced reservations. Beckett’s staunch pursuance of reparation for homophobia strikes a cord in Miller, opening his eyes to how essential the law is in securing civil rights for all. In a defining character moment, Beckett uses dance and soothing opera music to illustrate how joyous life can be if walls are taken down to let harmony prevail.
6. Adèle Haenel as “Héloïse” in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019)
dir. Céline Sciamma
Locked into a bitter prison of wealth and heteronormative responsibility to wed young, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is a simmering enigma yearning to explore her desires. Her tumultuous outbursts and severe exterior at first frighten Marianne (Noémie Merlant), the young painter hired to finish the newly intended’s self-portrait. What cultivates is a stirring, heated sexual affair that promises paradise in small doses that should last a lifetime. The internal war eventually leads to one of the most memorable final breakdowns in cinema history. Forced to separate, Marianne watches from afar as Héloïse tearfully releases her sorrow over love denied by 18th-century aristocrat bondage.
5. Adepero Oduye as “Alike” from “Pariah” (2011)
dir. Dee Rees
Alike (Adepero Oduye) is the furthest thing from her titular branding. Poetry and clothes give her the self-expression denied at home. Yes, home: a place that should be sacred becomes a hell predicated on deceit and hypocrisy, the flames of which are stoked by Alike’s strict Christian upbringing. Instead of damning her religion, Alike finds the beauty in its messaging, knowing full well she needn’t be ashamed of her sexuality because “God doesn’t make mistakes.” The strength of her certainty is often tested by fear and intolerance from those she loves. However, Alike’s resolve and open heart mean that she will never break, even if certain family affection remains conditional for now.
4. Nathan Lane as “Albert Goldman” in “The Birdcage” (1996)
dir. Mike Nichols
It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, it’s the iconic Nathan Lane giving us the most loving gay adoptive father in movie history. Albert Goldman is comfortable in his own flamboyancy, and attempts at being more “masculine” to impress his adoptive son’s (Dan Futterman) prospective in-laws is a betrayal to his soul. No one should ever feel pressured to change who they are or accommodate others by modifying their own unique, beautiful, singular nature. Albert Goldman does all he can for his adoptive son and husband in spirit (Robin Williams) and is unappreciated for efforts that never should have been required in the first place. By tricky situation’s end, the characters come to realize what the audience knew from the second Albert Goldman came into the frame: this is a special person with a heart big enough to eclipse hatred itself if given the opportunity.
3. Cate Blanchett as “Carol Aird” from “Carol” (2015)
dir. Todd Haynes
Cate Blanchett has never had a role more suited to her regal eminence. Carol Aird is a mesmerizing presentation of the 1950s rich housewife elegance, but that glamorous facade covers a double life unrealized. In reality, Carol is in the throes of a messy divorce, shared custody of her daughter hanging in the balance after her lesbian lifestyle is exposed. Carol summons all her willpower to meet this defining moment head-on, refusing to be controlled or denied by patriarchal institutions. The unyielding courage of her convictions is what makes Carol one of the most resolute characters in LGBTQ+ storytelling. Part of her strength is knowing she cannot get through this hardship alone, thus embracing the possibility of a forever with her lover, Therese (Rooney Mara).
2. Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert as “Chiron Harris” in “Moonlight” (2016)
dir. Barry Jenkins
Across three major chapters of his life, Chiron gets closer and closer to being the man he’s comfortable loving. Actors Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes are magnificent at depicting Chiron through different stages of self-discovery. Children often figure themselves out early on, but society and parents with their own set of problems put a quick stop to that. This leads to even more confusion and resentment. As a black kid in America, Chiron already faces an uphill battle, but to add the challenge of being a closeted gay kid makes his prospective future even grimmer. Chiron is forced to become something he isn’t in order to survive in a world where no second chances are afforded to him. When a childhood reunion opens the door to potential happiness, only then is Chiron able to exhale as his true unencumbered self.
1. Heath Ledger as “Ennis Del Mar” in “Brokeback Mountain” (2005)
dir. Ang Lee
The greatest LGBTQ character of all-time is Ennis Del Mar, brought to transcendental life thanks to Heath Ledger‘s tender unpacking of toxic masculinity. In many ways, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the more open-minded, hopeful character who leads with optimism in the face of surrounding impossibility. Del Mar suppresses these dreams. His fear of disappointing his family and wounding his own flawed sense of gender empowerment overwhelm his undying love for Jack. It’s only upon learning of Jack’s tragic death – whose true cause Del Mar is too afraid to investigate – that Del Mar embraces the love of his life. Squeezing Jack’s jacket with complete emotional surrender, audiences realize Ennis is a genuine man whose heart never once quit despite staying the straight course.
Who are your ten favorite onscreen LGBTQ+ characters? Let us know in the comments below!
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