Ahoy there! Welcome to another edition of Queer Tested, Teacher Approved! This time, this queer educator is tackling the terrifying world that is LGBTQ+ movies aimed at teens. Before we get into it, I just wanna say that most movies in general are bad. Unfortunately, at least anecdotally, it seems queer movies are bad more often? And, that the critically acclaimed often focus on queer trauma. So, I’ll be dissecting all that and recommending a few good eggs. Let’s get started!

Spoilers, natch. 

“Queer Tested” Methodology 

All films discussed:

  • feature at least one main queer character.
  • received a 7.0+ rating on IMDB and/or a 70+ score on Metacritic.
  • are available to rent or stream legally (at least in the US).

I’ve marked movies I couldn’t bear finishing with an asterisk*.  

“Teacher Approved” Methodology 

I’d not realized the inherent trauma of watching queer cinema till I started working on this article. It seems damn near impossible to watch film in good faith; it’s as though our pain is a commodity traded for tickets.
 
Basically, watching violence is more disturbing than reading about it. So, anguish on screen may have a bigger impact on the psyche than reading about it. That’s not to say I’m ignoring films with trauma. That’s not realistic; being a minority unfortunately comes with trauma. But, I’m only wholeheartedly recommending films that don’t luxuriate in our suffering. 
 
I’ve included content warnings (CW) wherever possible. 
 

Are Queers Only Acceptable If They’re Unhappy and Foreign?

Firstly, what’s considered a teen movie in the US is quite different to what’s considered a teen movie abroad. For one, sex and nudity strike horror in the hearts of US Americans. More to the point, though, teen flicks aren’t so distinguishable from adult ones in other countries. Essentially, I’m not sure if critics and audiences laud foreign films because they’re foreign or because foreign films tend to skew more serious? 

Carmen & Lola

For example, Carmen & Lola is an award-winning film that screened at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It’s a coming of age romance about two Romani girls in a suburb of Madrid. My biggest issue with this film is the way it revels in its painful moments. The viewer is a voyeur to suffering. When Lola’s (Zaira Romero) parents discover she’s involved with Carmen (Rosy Rodríguez), Lola’s dad drags her to church — literally — for an exorcism. It’s all too raw, too horrifying. It turns the film from a movie about first love and coming of age into a horror film. There was a way to keep this scene in there without dwelling on it.

Also, the writer/director, Arantxa Echevarría, isn’t Romani, which, I’ll be honest, bugged. The movie doesn’t cast a friendly light on the Romani community, painting them in broad strokes as ultra-religious, patriarchal and homophobic. But, at the very least, Echevarría filmed Carmen & Lola within in the Neo-realist style, employing mostly amateurs Romani actors. One can only hope those actors had some say in how they were depicted. . 

Being 17

The second film I want to talk about is Being 17*. It’s a French film about two boys (Corentin Fila and Kacey Mottet Klein) who fall in love after they spend the first half of the movie violently bullying each other. Oh and one of the boys is trans-racially adopted and insecure now that his parents are having a bio-baby. Barf.

Sure, enemies to lovers can be a fun trope. Not so much when there’s bullying like this. And further, when pickings are this slim … why are films like this being praised so highly? 

I didn’t mean to be so harsh on films that are feature sex so heavily. It’s great to normalize sex and nudity, and the fact that those two things aren’t always related. However, there seems to be a disturbing trend here: for there to be sex in a movie, the film also has to be tragic. I don’t think either being rewarded with sex, or being punished for it, counts as sex-positivity. 

Carmen & Lola CW: homophobia (slurs), racism, sexism, nonconsensual kissing, outing, smoking, exorcism, nudity / porn. 

Being 17 CW: Animal death, parental death, bullying, violence, miscarriage (mentioned), transracial adoption, full frontal nudity (sexual and non), smoking, sex.

Other Queer Teen Films I just COULDN’T With

  • Center of My World* CW: miscarriage, blood, full-frontal nudity, sex.
  • Dating Amber CW: Animal death, accidental cutting (blood), drug and alcohol use, parental death by suicide (mentioned), homophobia (including slurs), nonconsensual kissing, smoking, mild sexual content. 
  • Sequin in a Blue Room CW (I couldn’t find info online and really couldn’t bring myself to finish the film, so this is from what I saw): child-adult sexual relationship, sex.

OK, But Not Everything Sucks

So, there are, of course, movies I love. These movies aren’t pain-free, but neither are their queer main characters punching bags for the cishetero world, you know? I wholeheartedly recommend the following:  

Alice Júnior

I f’love this movie! Alice (Anna Celestino Mota) is a trans teenager-cum-YouTube sensation who just wants her first kiss, dammit! Alice’s life turns upside down when she and her dad temporarily to the conservative countryside. The jerks in her new Catholic school repeatedly misgender her and don’t let her use the girl’s bathroom, but Alice’s amazing dad takes care of that right quick. Eventually, she finds good friends. But will Alice get her first kiss? You’ll just have to watch this Brazilian masterpiece to find out. 

CW: drug and alcohol use, sexual harassment, dead naming, misgendering, transphobia and homophobia (including slurs), nudity (nonsexual).  

In a Heart Beat

If you haven’t yet watched “In a Heart Beat”, you need to get your priorities in check. This short film by Esteban Bravo and Beth David asks what happens when our hearts give us away.  It’s really cute. Watch it down below: 

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

I grew up watching this animated wallaby on Nickelodeon. The folx behind Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, didn’t have to include a trans storyline in this special. But they did. And it feels natural. And that’s why I love it. Static Cling‘s a family film, with a central trans character. Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui) and his friends immediately accept Rachel (Joe Murray) for who she is, though her dad takes a bit longer. 

CW: misgendering, dead naming, transphobia, cartoonish violence and gore.

The Half of It

Grow-ing pains. That’s what The Half of It is all about. It’s a super quiet movie, right? There have been many retellings of Cyrano de Bergerac. Others exist on Netflix even. But this one, which centers on the friendship between Ellie (Leah Lewis) and Paul (Daniel Diemer), has a special place in my heart. It’s so rare to see a gay gal/straight guy bff pairing. 

CW: alcohol abuse, homophobia, parental death (mentioned), racism, deception/stalking.

Honorable Mention: Luca

Disney can cry until the cows come home that Luca isn’t “gay.” But as far as I’m concerned, they’re crying wolf. Sure this Pixar film about two young sea monsters who hide their identities cuz people will hate them isn’t about growing up queer. Wink wink. Got it. I can’t even. If you don’t believe me, perhaps this “unhinged lesbian” will convince you

CW: Animal death, violent bullying, child abandonment, systemic prejudice. 

RELATED: Top 10 Favorite LGBTQIA+ TV Couples

Not My Speed, But You Might Like ‘Em

The following movies are a little slow for my taste, but I’m super picky. So, if you can get behind more leisurely-paced flicks, consider checking these out:

Closet Monster

In Closet Monster, Oscar (Connor Jessup) witnesses an anti-gay hate crime as a child, which leaves him traumatized. He’s coped by becoming friends with his talking hamster. 

CW: Animal death, drug use, violent hate crime, body dysmorphia, homophobia (slurs), ableism, blood and gore, sex.

Love of Siam

Love of Siam is about two childhood friends (Mario Maurer and Witwisit Hiranyawongkul) who reconnect as teenagers. It’s filled with a lot of family drama and a wee bit o’ romance. 

CW: alcohol abuse (parent), blood, missing family member, smoking.

Pariah*

Pariah tells the story of Alike (Adepero Oduye), a semi-closeted Brooklyn teenager struggling to express herself in her conservative family.  

CW: Misgendering, body dysmorphia, homophobia (slurs), domestic violence, child abuse, sex toy shown, nudity.

The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks centers on the budding relationship between Leo (Ghilherme Lobo) and the new boy in town, Gabriel (Fabio Audi). But will that get in the way of their friendship with Giovana (Tess Amorim)?

CW: alcohol use, nudity (shower), homophobia, ableism, masturbation (implied).

That’s a Wrap

I wish there were more variety of queer cinema and more celebration of films that showed queer joy. But, at the end of the day, movies cost money to make, and there’s still a stigma around us queers. Money talks and we’re just not marketable enough (yet?). I don’t know when or if things will get better. But, if having good LGBTQ+ movies is important to you, voting with your dollar is super important. I hope you find something you wanna watch! 

So, have you watched any of these movies? Did I miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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