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Top Five Movies and TV Shows About Queer Women

Credit: FILMGRAB/Jules Labarthe

Happy Pride Month! As time goes on, queer stories slowly have made their way into mainstream media. It’s important to uplift these stories. However, there is often an issue with reusing unliked tropes when it comes to queer women in film. It’s tiring and disappointing to see the same poor narratives over and over again. Fortunately, there are stories centered around queer female characters that do not revolve around negative narratives. Listed below are my personal top five movies and shows surrounding queer women that are genuinely good.

1. But I’m a Cheerleader

Credit: FILMGRAB/Jules Labarthe

This 1999 film was ahead of its time. But I’m a Cheerleader stars Natasha Lyonne as Megan, a cheerleader whose family, friends and boyfriend believe she’s a lesbian. Despite her denials, she is sent away to a conversion camp with other queer kids. Throughout her time at the camp, she meets Graham (Clea DuValle), a lesbian who is not ashamed to be herself. At first, the pair go back and forth with each other, appearing as enemies. However, despite their circumstances, they can’t help but end up falling for each other. Even though they are being told that this life is wrong, they go on to be in love anyway.

While the movie takes place in conversion therapy, But I’m a Cheerleader is anything but dark and melancholy: The aesthetics are bright and colorful, there is humor despite the circumstances of the characters, and there’s an overall sense of pure sweetness watching Megan and Graham evolve from disliking each other to sharing a kiss. A classic enemies to lovers never disappoints, making this movie worth the watch.

Unsurprisingly, the movie didn’t originally perform well. Mainstream media wasn’t as accepting of queer stories back then so there was a lack of lesbian comedies. Over the years, But I’m a Cheerleader has gathered a following within the LGBTQ+ community. Director, Jamie Babbit, acknowledged the newfound success of her movie and has stated that her drive to create the movie stemmed from her own life and the lack of lesbian media.

2. Ratched

Credit: YouTube/Still Watching Netflix

Starring Sarah Paulson, Ratched is a short-lived Netflix series developed by Ryan Murphy, creator of American Horror Story. Paulson portrays Nurse Mildred Ratched, a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. The series served as a prequel to the life of Mildred Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The audience watches Nurse Ratched go through a discovery of self. She not only discovers who she is career-wise, but she comes to a consensus on who she loves. Upon meeting Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), Nurse Ratched tries to deny her feelings and who she is, but she comes to terms with it. After some reflection, her love for Gwendolyn is admitted and they become a pair. This love causes a softness in Nurse Ratched that is not seen until they come together.

The story takes place in 1947 so homosexuality is considered a mental illness. Despite this, there is pure love between Nurse Ratched and Gwendolyn. They do not face the risks of being locked away. In the end, Gwendolyn faces cancer, but she does not die. The pair goes to Mexico together, living happily. While the show has lots of darkness, there is a light within the relationship shared between them. It’s beautiful to watch queer women be in love when it was traditionally frowned upon.

While Ratched raked in forty-eight million viewers when it debuted, the series has been canceled. Critics did not take too well to the show. A lot of criticism came from the fact that Paulson’s Nurse Ratched did not resemble the original Nurse Ratched. So, I guess we’ll never know what the future holds for Mildred and Gwendolyn, but maybe that’s for the best. The storyline didn’t have time to disappoint its queer audience with a potential death.

3. One Day at a Time

Credit: YouTube/MsMojo

Inspired by the original 1975 One Day at a Time, this 2017 version includes the Alvarez family. Penelope is a single mother, nurse and ex-veteran. Elena and Alex are her kids. Her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), lives with the family as well. They are Cuban Americans. The series addresses multiple social issues such as racism, immigration, addiction, mental illness, religion, sexism, gender identity and homophobia. The show ran for four seasons before its cancellation in 2020.

A key moment in the show for the queer community centers around Elena Alvarez. In season one, there is a pivotal plot point surrounding Elena’s coming out as a lesbian. The first time we see Elena come out is to Penelope. In my opinion, the scene is beautifully written. There’s such a realness when Elena points out feeling more for Kristen Stewart than she does when kissing the boy she dates briefly. It was relatable and something I had never witnessed in a coming-out scene. As for Penelope’s reaction, she accepts Elena but internally struggles. She knows the world is tough, but realizes her daughter is tougher.

However, things are not all smooth sailing from here. Elena comes out to Lydia who appears supportive, but admits to Penelope that this goes against her religion. Miraculously, Lydia works out her struggle, recalling Pope Francis’ infamous “Who am I to judge?” statement. While things do work out with Lydia, it does not originally go this way with Elena’s father, Victor. At her quinceañera, Elena comes out to her dad, but he does not accept her. He goes as far as to leave the party. They don’t speak again until later in the show. This strained father-daughter relationship is raw and emotional. The series did a good job of showing the unfortunate realities of coming out.

4. Bottoms

Credit: YouTube/E! News

Bottoms is a 2023 queer comedy directed by Emma Seligman. The two main characters are lesbian teenagers, PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri). Being queer, the pair struggles to date in high school. Finally having had enough, they start a self-defense club in hopes of hooking up with their cheerleader crushes. There are conflicts and turmoil, but the self-defense club works out for Josie. She lands her cheerleader crush. However, PJ does not get lucky and is met with the heartbreaking words, “I’m straight,” but she does share a triumphant kiss with another member of the club, Hazel.

While the movie is overall hilarious, it did a good job of making queerness normal and not an intense, dramatic storyline. This was the intention of Seligman. The vibe is fun and playful, aiming to make the audience laugh. Personally, I appreciated that the movie addressed a common insecurity for queer youth. There’s a feeling of falling behind in romantic relationships. In high school, it seems that everyone around you is dating and having their firsts but that’s not the case for most queer teenagers. This was seen firsthand with PJ and Josie. It’s refreshing to see this represented in a mainstream movie.

5. Everything Sucks!

Credit: YouTube/Netflix

Everything Sucks! is an extremely short-lived Netflix series. Set in the 90s, the show focuses on a group of teenagers who partake in the AV and drama club. High school is a time of identity. You’re figuring out who you are and what you want. So, naturally, a plot point of the show revolves around sexuality especially for the main character, Kate.

At the very start of the show, Kate is looking at photos of women in a porn magazine. She attempts to masturbate, but her father interrupts. There’s also a moment where Kate’s eyes fall onto Emaline (Sydney Sweeney), a striking drama club student. There are also rumors around school that Kate is a lesbian, causing bullying from Emaline and others to occur. Despite the multiple hints of her being into women, she agrees to date a boy in the AV club, Luke. However, they don’t last long before Kate tells him she’s a lesbian. As the series progresses, Kate and Emaline share a sweet moment where Kate admits her attraction. By the end of the series, there’s an acknowledgment of mutual feelings and they share a kiss.

While Everything Sucks! lasted one season, it did a good job of showing the difficulties of being a teenager who is figuring out their sexuality. It’s a tough navigation for many especially when you’re so young. There’s a lot of pressure from society and peers. It makes it hard to be yourself. There is a feeling of dating someone because you feel like you should, not because you want to. There is a feeling of isolation because you can’t understand what’s wrong with you. Self-discovery is a difficult journey. Kate is a character who queer teens can connect with and it’s important to have this representation.

Conclusion

There are plenty of wholesome, good-quality queer stories out there; not every story must involve angst and sadness. Queer people deserve to have as many romantic, tooth-rotting, fluffy movies and shows as straight people do. There can be a happy ending for us, both in fiction and in reality.

Written By

I am a New Jersey native going to school in Boston. I am majoring in English with a Public and Professional Writing concentration. I have recently joined Trill Mag as an intern for their Entertainment team.

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