These days, it's not uncommon to see gay people portrayed in movies and television. But it wasn't always so. Enacted from 1930 to 1968, the Motion Picture Code, commonly known as the Hays Code, established a set of moral guidelines that was applied to United States motion pictures. The Hays Code included a long list of subjects that could not appear in pictures ranging from drug trafficking and nudity to ridicule of the clergy. One other subject matter that was banned from film was homosexuality because gays were labeled as “sexual deviants.”
Although the Hays Code made it almost impossible for filmmakers to show homosexuals on film, they were able to hint at it by making the character overly effeminate or a villain. Such portrayals continued for many decades; it wasn’t until the Stonewall Riots in 1969 that Hollywood began to change its approach.
With Pride being celebrated around the country this June, it's a good time to look back on the evolution of LGBT rights. Gays in cinema and television have come a long way since the days of The Hays Code and there are many great films that capture the struggles and triumphs the LGBT community has endured. Here is a list of films to watch this Pride month to celebrate gay history.
Angels in America
The HBO miniseries based on a play by the same name revolves about six people’s lives who intersect during the AIDS crisis. The miniseries starring Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson, explores a wide variety of themes, including Reagan-era politics, the spreading AIDS epidemic, and a rapidly changing social and political climate.
The Normal Heart
The recent Ryan Murphy-directed film stars Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo and depicts the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City. Word of advice, make sure tissues are close by.
Almost required watching for every Pride celebration, Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official.
Paris is Burning
For all you RuPaul’s Drag Race fans, this is the documentary you need to see. Chronicling the ball culture of New York City in the 1980s, RuPaul has cited this documentary as the main inspiration for his cult show.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
This 1994 comedy, follows three drag queens as they travel across the Australian outback in a tour bus they lovingly call “Priscilla.” The film became a cult classic and even a musical that opened on Broadway in 2011.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
This is another road trip comedy about three drag going cross country. This one, however, stars Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes, not the most fishy of drag queens.
But I’m a Cheerleader
This comedy is about a cheerleader whose parents send her to a conversion therapy camp to cure her of lesbianism. No, Mike Pence does not have a cameo as the director of the camp.
This film has been called a “modern gay romance” (whatever that means) but is about two men who meet and connect over a weekend. It accurately portrays an intense relationship and what it is like to not know where it will lead.
The Celluloid Closet
This documentary explores how LGBT characters were portrayed in film, from the early effeminate males, to the Hays Code era and beyond.