With so many queer spaces, bars, clubs, live venues, theatres, and cinemas closed for much of the year, and festivals cancelled or reimagined as virtual editions, we asked some of friends, including prominent culture makers and performers, to tell us their favourite LGBTQ+ art or events of 2020. Get in touch via social media using the hashtag #TheQueerReview2020 on Twitter @TheQueerReview, Instagram @TheQueerReview, or Facebook to let us know what you think of these selections and to share your own favourite LGBTQ+ culture and events of the year.
Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE. Actor. Filmmaker. Playwright. Singer-songwriter. Designer. Choreographer. Dancer.
ZANELE MUHOLI at Tate Modern, London
The visionary work of South African artist-activist Zanele Muholi, whose current Exhibition at the Tate Modern (on until May 31st 2021) is stunning. Muholi came to prominence in the early 2000s with photographs that told the stories of Black LGBTQ+ lives in South Africa.
Untitled Queen aka Matthew De Leon. Artist. Drag performer.
Brooklyn Liberation. An Action For Black Trans Lives.
My favorite memorable LGBTQIA+ moment of 2020 was the “Brooklyn Liberation, An Action For Black Trans Lives” rally and silent march held on Sunday June 14th outside the Brooklyn Museum. With a gathering of 15,000 people, it was such a hopeful and incredibly empowering concentration of power and brilliance, with everyone attending dressed in white, and speakers from incredible organizations like GLITS, The Okra Project, Marsha P. Johnson Institute, For the Gworls, and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts.
Jeremy O. Harris. Playwright (Daddy, Slave Play). Producer. Actor. Director.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
A novel that probes — painstakingly, with the same microscopic precision its protagonist uses in the lab — the ways that an anxious queer black brain is mutated by the legacies of growing up in a society (in Wallace’s case, rural Alabama) where the body that houses it is not welcome. – An extract from Jeremy O. Harris’ review of Real Life by Brandon Taylor in The New York Times, published February 18th 2020.
It reminded me of the inadequacy I felt when I was a young boy and didn’t understand what it meant to be queer, but knew how it felt. This marvellous film chronicles the bond of two outsiders with real compassion and clarity of perspective for all of us who feel different from the way we are supposed to be.
Follow Lucio Castro on Instagram @Lucio_Castro.
Daniel “Dusty” Albanese. Photographer.
New York City Drag March
One of the first moments I felt hopeful again was at the 26th annual New York City Drag March in June. Though not officially organized because of the coronavirus pandemic, queer creativity was safely manifested, and weaved its way to the Stonewall, marking our resilience as a community.
Jenni Olson. Queer film historian. Writer. Archivist. Filmmaker.
Disclosure + Paris is Burning
Here’s my double-feature recommendation. 2020 kicked off in January with the Sundance Film Festival world premiere of the phenomenal new documentary, Disclosure (on which I served as a consulting producer) — which offers a broad, pioneering exploration of the more-often-than-not painful history of trans representation in film and television. In addition to a cornucopia of clips, Sam Feder’s powerful survey presents trans actors, directors, writers, and others (including Laverne Cox, Yance Ford, Jen Richards, Jamie Clayton, Lilly Wachowski, Leo Sheng, and many, many others) speaking out eloquently and passionately about that history. With its release on Netflix this summer, Disclosure elevated awareness and visibility as it brilliantly achieved the goal of offering viewers access to trans perspectives on screen. Read our interview with Disclosure director Sam Feder and read our review of Disclosure.
2020 also saw the Blu-ray release of the beautifully restored classic, Paris is Burning. Jennie Livingston’s legendary 1990 portrait of the lives of Black and Latinx trans women and the late 1980s New York City ballroom scene, remains an ongoing gift to successive generations as beautiful, courageous, and inspiring folks like Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Octavia St. Laurent, Willi Ninja, and Venus Extravaganza live on in celluloid. The terrific Criterion Collection edition (also newly available now streaming on the Criterion Channel) is packed with extras including almost 2 hours of never before seen outtakes and numerous special features created for the release (including a 10-minute interview with yours truly speaking as a queer film historian on the importance of the film — plus a must-read new essay by filmmaker Michelle Parkerson who hails Paris is Burning as: “an up-front, humane chronicle of overcoming adversity with audacity.”). In this, the most difficult year of our lifetimes, both films offer profound messages of strength and hope for trans and gender non-conforming people everywhere — and lessons for us all. Read our interview Jennie Livingston.
Matthew Lopez. Playwright (The Inheritance).
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Although it was published in 2019, I didn’t get a chance to read Bernardine Evaristo’s brilliant and beautiful Girl, Woman, Other until after New York went into lockdown back in March. I don’t often make book recommendations because taste is subjective but on occasion you come across a piece of writing that blows past subjectivity and is simply, purely wonderful. This book is one of the most humane, imaginative, funny, heartbreaking, thought-altering novels I have encountered in quite some time. Her capacity to hold nearly a dozen vibrant characters within her narrative without ever making their stories diffuse or cursory is a miracle of creation. The tales she tells of Black women in contemporary London is a breath of fresh air amid the cacophony of contemporary fiction. The fact that she is the first Black woman to win the Booker prize is both a scandal and a cause for celebration. A scandal because—really, it took until 2019? A celebration because this remarkable book by this singular voice deserves all the praise and recognition possible. No spoilers, I promise, but she also manages to end the novel on a note of grace and reconciliation and generosity that is quite sorely lacking in most contemporary writing. This novel will haunt your imagination long after you’ve finished it. Run, don’t walk, to your local bookstore and grab a copy and get one for a friend. I promise you will thank me.
Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance is nominated for 11 Tony Awards including Best Play.
Alan Ball’s Uncle Frank, Amazon
I got to see it at a drive-in screening in Malibu presented by OutFest and watched it again the following week. It is one of the most well-done queer movies I ever have seen and my favourite queer culture of the year. Watch our interviews with the Uncle Frank cast on our YouTube Channel.
Buck Angel’s Instagram Live aka Tranpa
I feel that what Buck has managed to do on social media has been so remarkable. I watch him up close nearly every day struggle with issues that affect the trans community, and his passion is so huge that sometimes he creates waves, and often controversy swirls around him, as he is willing to stake out positions that go against what seem to be a consensus, but what he is doing by voicing his own personal views, is the thing that I feel is most important for our larger queer community, and the whole world, which is to not be afraid to speak one’s own truth. I really believe I learn from his work, how to engage all people, even those we disagree with– and I see his work as a beautiful expression of one person doing their own work to make a space for a group of people to come together which is what the world needs right now, and I believe this has always been the mark of what being LGBTQ is all about, being free to be one’s own expression of gender and sexuality despite what the larger societal rules may be.
Drew Droege. Actor. Writer. Comedian.
Ryan Spahn’s Nora Highland
Ryan Spahn’s wickedly caustic play and film Nora Highland unravels the conversation of casting openly gay actors on stage and screen. It’s essential viewing about authenticity and the need to tell our stories with out queer people front and center.
Lord Michael Cashman CBE. Actor. Politician. Activist. Writer (One of Them: From Albert Square to Parliament Square)
The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez
At the beginning of 2020 I travelled across the Atlantic to complete my journey with the magnificent play The Inheritance. In London it seduced, shocked, and embraced audiences young and old as it told the story of surviving a pandemic, of reaching out and embracing others when no one would, and becoming oneself. Arguably the best writing of the last 40 years, a brilliant cast and an outstanding production it spoke to me of my life, of the loss (and strength) through AIDS and HIV, but more than anything how we can only survive together. Each defending the other. Breathtaking to see it finally in the place that it depicts.
Follow Michael Cashman on Twitter @MCashmanCBE & Instagram @MCashmanCBE. Website. One of Them: From Albert Square to Parliament Square by Michael Cashman is available in hardback now from Bloomsbury Publishing.
Kim David Smith. Cabaret artist.
Aside from releasing my own super gay cabaret album (Kim David Smith Live at Joe’s Pub!) my favorite, musical LGBTQ+ moment of 2020 is in my friend Bright Light Bright Light’s brilliant album, Fun City — his stunning duet with Justin Vivian Bond is exactly the kind of smart, heart-breaking pop I gravitate toward (when not losing my mind to Kylie, obviously). Read our interview with Bright Light Bright Light.
Howard J Davis aka Haui. Multidisciplinary artist working in theatre & film.
My 2020 queer cultural influence would have to be the works of Felix D’eon, an artist of mixed Mexican/Latinx heritage dedicated to the expression of queer love. His painting Cherry Outing depicting an interracial couple makes an appearance in my feature film debut MixedUp. The film chronicles my journey to finding inner cohesion exploring the isolation of being LGBTQ and BIPOC, and demands that we celebrate the beauty of difference.
Chad Armstrong. Contributor – The Queer Review.
Star Trek: Discovery season 3
Star Trek: Discovery had already cemented itself as the most progressive iteration of the Star Trek family and it upped its queer game in Season 3 with the introduction of non-binary and trans characters, Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Gray (Ian Alexander), played by authentically non-binary and trans performers. Even better, their sexuality and gender identification were irrelevant to their characters’ stories (a complex tale about the alien species, The Trill). We’re still waiting to see how the storylines progress for Adira and Gray, but meanwhile Michelle Yeoh’s sexually omniverous Emperor Georgiou continued to delight with her sharp tongue and Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp settled in as Star Trek’s premiere gay couple. In a dark year, Disco (as it’s affectionately known) has lived up to the best traditions of Star Trek – shining an optimistic light on our future.
Paul Burston. Author. Curator & host of London’s LGBTQ+ literary salon Polari & founder of the Polari Prize, the UK’s only book awards for LGBTQ+ writing, which turned ten in 2020.
Schitt’s Creek, POP TV
I’ve really struggled to read for large parts of this year, but I need stories to feed my imagination as a writer so I’ve been watching lots of films and TV. My favourite by far has to be Schitt’s Creek. The writing, the performances, the humour which is wickedly funny but never unkind – it’s been the perfect antidote to all the anxiety and misery in the world. And the handling of David’s sexuality was superb. The wine analogy conversation with Stevie is one of the best coming out scenes of all time.I’ve watched the whole six seasons twice this year, and have gifted the boxset to two friends who are now every bit as obsessed with it as I am. In fact, I’ll probably watch it again over Christmas.
Dr. Emily Garside. Writer. Researcher. Contributor – The Queer Review
The Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival
The Iris Prize managed to not only produce a film festival against the odds, but they actually managed to include innovations that will hopefully make the festival even more accessible, bigger and better in years to come. In a dark time, the chance to see such a wide range of work from LGBTQ+ filmmakers from around the world was an important and inspiring reminder of our community’s creativity.
Hao Zeng. Director. Photographer.
Taking the below photograph is my most memorable moment of 2020. I didn’t get to shoot a lot of personal work. I got to shoot actress, filmmaker, model, and LGBTQ+ rights activist Jari Jones and close people in her family circle with my stylist friend Karina Sharif. I remember having this image in my head since last year , and this year we were able to make it come to life!
Todd Verow. Filmmaker (Frisk, Bad Boy Street, Goodbye Seventies).
The 2020 Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality
NYC Pride wasn’t cancelled in 2020 it was reclaimed. There were no permits, no police barricades keeping protesters penned in and onlookers out. no corporate floats or sponsors and it was glorious. The police brutality at the end of the march was a vivid reminder that Stonewall was a riot and we have a long way still to go.
Brian Falduto. Actor. Country music artist. LGBTQ+ life coach. Host – The Gay Life Coach Podcast.
1984 by Trey Pearson
My friend & fellow artist Trey Pearson released a single called ‘1984’ which I loved so much that it made it onto my Spotify Wrapped. I thought it was such a great anthem with a really relevant & timely message. It was released early on when the messiness of the pandemic began & I thought it was for sure underrated. I highly recommend!
Caden Mark Gardner. Freelance film critic with a focus on queer & trans representation.
Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca
Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca (Netflix) centers otherness in the form of Olivia (played by Sandoval herself), who is a caregiver, undocumented Filipina immigrant, and trans woman. Despite making a film our political moment in more ways than one, Sandoval is not making a PSA on those experiences. Lingua Franca is a work of art drenched in cinephilia and queerness, with allusions to the films of Lino Brocka and Chantal Akerman in social commentary and how one’s body negotiates amid the spaces around them. Brocka and Akerman, queer themselves, had their films transcend beyond labels into world cinema canon. One hopes that Sandoval, with Lingua Franca being the first film she made as an out trans woman, is given the opportunities as a trans artist to continue to make stirring works of truth and possibilities.
Nate Lemuel of Darklisted Photography. Photographer.
Being an Honoree of Diné Pride this year for my work with the community was something very special. I was there to support my reservation as a queer artist all while I was helping the Navajo Nation by storytelling and delivering critical aid to towns all over.
Glenn Gaylord. Filmmaker (I Do, Leave It on the Floor). Senior Film Critic – The Queer Review.
Travis Fine’s Two Eyes
In a year fraught with isolation and tragedy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the past, sifting through what’s been truly important to me, and what’s been senseless noise. I’ve thought about challenges our forebearers have faced, such as their own pandemics or struggles for human rights. In such a time of reflecting, it’s fitting that my favorite LGBTQ+ film of 2020, Two Eyes, looks back at earlier generations and connects them so vividly to our present day. Travis Fine’s beautiful, Terrence Malick-esque triptych takes us through the past few centuries, seamlessly weaving together stories of gender identity and self-expression. Told with as much empathy as my favorite heteronormative film of 2020, Nomadland, Fine’s film had me in tears of appreciation for the trans, non-binary, or gender non-conforming ancestors whose struggles reverberate to the present day to remind us to be better. Read our exclusive interviews with Two Eyes cast members Kate Bornstein and Nakhane.
Hugo Bonemer. Actor.
My favourite LGBTQIA+ Culture of the year was the gay aspect of Netflix’s Hollywood by Ryan Murphy, starring actors Jake Picking and Jeremy Pope recreating History the way it should have been and helping us to dream in these crazy times.
Jiz Lee. Genderqueer porn performer. Writer.
One of the films that had its plans for world celebration cut short this year is the trans adult film Mes Chéris. Produced and directed by CuteNon Films and written and starring Jamal Phoenix, it’s a powerful docu-porn about a Black trans-masculine sex worker who gives his breasts a ‘last hurrah’ by scripting a sex scene in which a client gives special attention to the performer’s former femme personae. It’s touching, sexy, multi-layered, and you can tell how much care went into the creation of the work. I laughed, I cried, I got hot… and participated in an important moment in a performer’s life in a really unique and vulnerable way. I’m a sucker for porn with heart, and that’s exactly what this film is, and as trans and queer Hollywood continues to grow and gain mainstream acceptance, I think it’s important to remember the important ways sex workers forged representation in media, and to me this film is one of the year’s best. Despite missing out on a LGBTQ+ or erotic film festival run, because there’s not many places a film like this is welcomed to screen, fortunately the creators have decided to release it online so people around the world can watch.
Bright Light Bright Light. Singer-songwriter. DJ.
My favourite LGBTQ+ discovery for me this year was Caveboy, the trio from Canada who I asked to feature on my song ‘It’s Alright, It’s OK’. A friend told me about their album in February and I fell in love with them. I emailed them immediately and we became friends, and I cannot stress enough how slick and wonderful their album is. It’s an essential addition to the LGBTQ+ canon, and would have been a perfect follow up to a MUNA record, or a Shura record. I tweet about them all the time and hope that every young queer makes space in their collection for an incredible album with killer vocals.
Boy Radio. Musician.
Veneno, HBO Max
Veneno is an HBO Max original series about the life of Spanish trans superstar Cristina Ortiz “La Veneno”. It is very much also about her close friends, and the author, Valeria Vegas, who was inspired to turn Cristina’s life story into a book. It is an intense retelling of Veneno’s fiery life. From being ridiculed by family and strangers for being gay, to her teen years and young adult years, to being discovered and put on TV. Veneno is my number one show for 2020. An emotional rollercoaster, and sexy in every way. Lots of tears were shed watching this show and honestly after this year, it was a much needed cry.
Jonathan Burke. Actor (The Inheritance, Choir Boy).
My favorite LGBTQ+ culture of the year is the artwork created by Black, gay, Harlem based artist, Javon Conaway. I received a painting of his, entitled “Ascend,” as a birthday gift this year and have taken a deeper look into his work ever since. To me, the painting, “Ascend,” symbolizes the struggles of Black gay men in America and our ability to rise above adversity and to continue to ascend. It provides a great source of inspiration and motivation daily as I look to it hanging beautifully on my wall before facing whatever lies ahead. It is one of my missions to support often unheard and unseen Black artists and entrepreneurs, and Mr. Conaway’s work is more than worthy of recognition. His work can be found at @artbyjcon or www.artbyjcon.com.
FANTI hosted by Tre’vell Anderson & Jarrett Hill helped brighten 2020. The podcast is always smart, enlightening, fun & silly, and the joy they put into recording it always comes through.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M Johnson is a black queer coming of age tale that just does so well at communicating what black queer boys go through. It’s almost a manual on how to grow up. It’s one I wish had when I was a kid and am so grateful exists for young queers today.
Follow Elegance Bratton on Instagram @EleganceBratton.
Eric Langberg. Writer. Contributor – The Queer Review.
modern anxiety by Josef Salvat
Listening to queer popstar Josef Salvat’s album ‘modern anxiety’ in the early months of the pandemic felt like a salve, like a reminder that I wasn’t alone in this messy new world. No lyrics better (inadvertently) captured the psychological damage of the world coming to a sudden halt than the opening lyrics of the album: ‘Last night, I was handsome, drunk, and young / today I don’t know who I’m trying to be / last night I was easy, free, and fun / today I got that heavy back in me.’ Long after this interminable year is over, I’ll remember how this album was there for me, how Salvat’s raw, emotional, honest lyrics and soothing voice got me through the year without dancefloors.
Marquise Vilsón. Activist. Actor.
The 2020 Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality
My favorite moment of 2020 was the Queer Liberation March held here in New York City. More than 15,000 people showed up to March in solitude for BIPOC Queer lives, prioritizing lives of Black Trans Folx first.
Beau Jangles. Drag king. Singer. Host.
Feel Good, Netflix
Yes, I fancy Mae Martin, but the real reason I adored Feel Good was its unique approach to sexuality, gender and addiction. Mae’s endearingly awkward journey through the rush of new queer love (and the difficulties relationships face once the trauma all starts to rear its head) feels very familiar to lots of us in the queer community, but the series somehow managed to lived up to its name and showcase some genius comedic work.
Follow Beau Jangles on Instagram @BeauJanglesDrag.
Enrique Agudo. Digital media artist. (Creative Director, VR short film The Pantheon of Queer Mythology).
Veneno, HBO Max
It is exhilarating to see such a formidable cast of trans women portraying the depth of the multidimensionality of the life and times of Cristina La Veneno, a legendary icon in Spanish Queer pop culture. As a proud Spaniard I cannot cheer more for how crucial it is for everyone to watch. Powerful!
Alexandra Billings. Actor. Singer.
The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez
I loved the fact that our HIV community was not forgotten by the brilliant piece of theatre called The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez. And I was blessed enough to have my wife witness this miraculous piece of art, while I was fortunate enough to play down the street as Madame Morrible in the Broadway production of Wicked. Although it was a historic year, this was only a start, and we need to do better.
Ben Rigby. Actor (Two Eyes).
Amidst the cacophony of noise, news, misinformation, opinion, science, fact, isolation, covid fatigue, zoom calls, homesickness and wine, this year, the stand out, most real and affirming event (or memory) and step forward for climate change action, BIPOC & the LGBTQI+ community was the Biden/Harris election and partying (masked) on Sunset Blvd with my new-found queer, American chosen family. A memory I will never forget. Films Shiva Baby, Kajillionaire, PS: Burn This Letter Please, Los Fuertes, Portrait of a Lady On Fire, Dramarama.
My pick for this year is the feature documentary Disclosure, for which I was the cinematographer. Working on this film was one of the most important experiences of my life. It changed my own hiring practices for my crews and taught me much about how film and television shaped my conception of myself as a trans person.
Zach Grear. Visual artist.
Dreamcrusher, a Black Queer noise musician, released several music projects this year, my favorite of which is “PANOPTICON!” In it they not only demand their position in a white hetero male music scene, they practically destroy it. The aggression and wrath and energy is like nothing I’ve heard before—I take it as a Black and Queer call to arms.
Nikhane. Singer-songwriter. Actor.
One of the best moments of culture for me this year was reading Real Life by Brandon Taylor. I had decided one day – on a whim – to go walking at Hampstead Heath when I saw the book on the window of a book shop. The blue calligraphy, the title; it called me. It’s an incredible, but approachable piece of fiction. Angry, but beautiful. Strong in its protest, but tender in its allowance of love to still exist.
Daniel Ribeiro. Filmmaker (The Way He Looks/Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho). Co-creator/Director He, She, They/Todxs Nós)
I May Destroy You, HBO
I May Destroy You was my favorite show this year and the gay character Kwame, portrayed by Paapa Essiedu, brought to light some important issues not usually explored on television. Read our exclusive interview with Paapa Essiedu.
James Kleinmann. Actor. Filmmaker. Editor – The Queer Review.
Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs on the Criterion Channel
I spent an unforgettable October afternoon having my own personal Marlon Riggs film festival thanks to the Criterion Channel’s celebration of his groundbreaking work and the enduring legacy of the late queer Black filmmaker, activist, poet and educator. Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs, still available on the Criterion Channel, features a complete retrospective of his still searingly urgent, provocative, nuanced, and beautifully crafted video work exploring Black identity and representation, the intersection of queerness and Blackness, homophobia and racism, and the stigma around HIV/AIDS. Read our exclusive interview with filmmaker Vivian Kleiman and curator Ashley Clark.
Compiled by James Kleinmann, Editor – The Queer Review
Get in touch via social media using the hashtag #TheQueerReview2020 on Twitter @TheQueerReview, Instagram @TheQueerReview, or Facebook to let us know what you think of these selections and to tell us your own favourite LGBTQ+ culture and events of the year.