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Celebrate Lesbian Visibility Week With These 5 Films

Need Some Movie Inspo for Lesbian Visibility Week? Try These Top-Rated Movies

From Monday 25th of April until Sunday 1st of May we are celebrating Lesbian Visibility Week with a special film selection, highlighting lesbian stories of all kinds. These five picks are truly a reflection of why visibility is so important and why few things are as empowering as seeing a reflection of your experience on screen.

Lesbian Visibility Week was created by the DIVA Media Group as a way to extend Lesbian Visibility Day, which has existed since 2008. It’s easy to see why as women loving women, lesbians are so underrepresented in our society – nothing about their existence is useful for the patriarchy, so whatever space the lesbian community has conquered until now has been entirely their own hard-earned achievement. 

In film, just like in every other cultural sphere, the disparity between gay male stories and gay female stories being represented is stark. Bigger strides have been made for gay men on screen, from Brokeback Mountain to Moonlight, but lesbian cinema has created some of the most hard-hitting movie moments of the last few decades. If lesbian stories are hard to come by, lesbian filmmakers are even rarer. Beloved lesbian movies like Carol (2015), The Handmaiden (2016) Disobedience (2017) and The Favourite (2018) are all helmed by men. Similarly, hidden gems like The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) and Summerland (2020) were directed by a bisexual and a straight woman respectively. 

Although it’s a good thing that sapphic love stories are becoming more frequent, they’re not always being told by the people who have lived them first hand, which can result in awkward duds. The infamous borderline pornographic and exploitative sex scene in Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2014) was labelled “ridiculous” by the transgender and non-binary author of the graphic novel the movie was based on, Jul Maroh. In the same vein, 2019’s Tell It To The Bees book-to-screen adaptation changed the source material’s ending (written by queer author Fiona Shaw) from a rare happy conclusion to a bittersweet separation for the lesbian couple at the centre of the narrative. Shaw called it a “straight person’s finale.”. 

So, because Lesbian Visibility Week is all about shining a spotlight on lesbian experiences, here are five films by lesbians, about lesbians. 

Desert Hearts (1985)

Desert Hearts

© The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Groundbreaking lesbian film, Desert Hearts almost didn’t get made. Lesbian director Donna Deitch had to struggle to fund her passion project, but thank god she never gave up. As a result, we were gifted with a timeless film so ahead of its time, it would still be considered innovative if it came out today. 

Desert Hearts explores the relationship between English professor and recently-divorced Vivian (Helen Shaver) and sculptor and free spirit Cay (Patricia Charbonneau). A dreamy Nevada ranch serves as the setting for this incredibly sensitive, passionate love story which revolutionised lesbian cinema by being one of, if not the first film to dare to give its characters a happy ending. 

Pariah (2011)


© Focus Features

The irreverent Dee Rees directs this coming-of-age film with empathy and respect that can sadly still be considered a rarity in LGBT+ cinema. Pariah doesn’t shy away from the inescapable violence of coming out in a conservative household, but it never turns it into a spectacle. Instead, we follow 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) through a true-to-life journey of self-discovery that is as fascinating as it is emotional. The relationships with the people closest to her never fall prey to cliché, either. From her religious mother to her frustrated father and her courageous best friend, none is a hero and none is a villain for Rees makes a point to write them all as simply human. 

Wild Nights with Emily (2018)

Wild Nights With Emily

© Greenwich Entertainment

In Wild Nights with Emily, lesbian playwright and director Madeleine Olnek offers a refreshingly funny and lighthearted take on the antics of American poet Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon) and her love life with Susan Gilbert (Susan Ziegler). Emily’s life has been straight-washed and darkened by history, but works like Olnek’s Wild Nights and Apple TV+’s Dickinson have rebelliously portrayed the poet as the wildly creative and revolutionary queer woman she really was. 

Summertime (2015)

Summertime, La Belle Saison

© Pyramide Distribution

Lesbian director Catherine Corsini made Summertime with her partner and film producer Elisabeth Perez. It’s an infectious love story between Delphine (Izïa Higelin) and Carole (Cécile de France) as the two navigate feminism and lesbianism in 1970s France. It’s graciously shot with a mix of blush-inducing romance and important debates about the limits of empowerment prompted by family, social expectations and political statements. 

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019)

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

© Pyramide Films

Céline Sciamma’s masterpiece is possibly one of the greatest LGBT+ movies of all time, and most definitely one of the most excellent of the last few years. Portrait Of A Lady on Fire is one of the most stunning explorations of the female gaze and living evidence of what queer cinema can achieve if given the chance. There are few pairings as palpably tensional as Portrait’s Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) and Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and Sciamma’s ability to visually translate their lingering looks and suffocating feelings is matched by few. 

There’s still a long way to go when it comes to lesbian representation on screen, but hopefully, these 5 films will feel like a victory this Lesbian Visibility Week.

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