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LGBT people have appeared on screen as long as there have been screens to appear on, but over the course of the last century the majority of these depictions have been negative. Historically depicted as something to be feared, those who did not conform to sexual or gender norms were often cast as villains or threats. From psycho-dykes to effeminate maniacs, their portrayal as LGBT automatically made them more threatening to an audience who already didn’t understand them. Due to the consistent depiction of LGBT people as villains, it became almost assumed that an LGBT person on film would always end up the villain. Think Mrs Danvers in Rebecca, Norman Bates in Psycho, Philip and Brandon in Rope.

Once homosexuality was decriminalised in the US, it would take a long time for Hollywood to catch up in its attitude toward them. Until the 1990s, it was very rare for a LGBT person to be portrayed in a positive light and even then, villains were their most common depictions. Think Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs, Catherine Trammell in Basic Instinct, Scar in The Lion King. But as Queer Cinema began to trickle into the mainstream, so too did more positive depictions of LGBT people.

The importance of television in the shift in attitude toward LGBT people on screen cannot be understated, however. While it took a while for an out gay character to appear on a primetime TV show, once they arrived, they arrived en masse. And due to the nature of television, in which characters are drip fed to their audience in their own homes, people became exposed to LGBT characters in a wholly different way. Through television, it became possible for the complexities of being LGBT issues were explored alongside other issues, subsequently becoming normalised and finally more human. Suddenly, LGBT people were not being portrayed as a threat and this trickled through into cinema too.

The majority of the truly great depictions of LGBT characters have surfaced since the turn of the millennium. These positive characters are as diverse as the people they represent; all ages, races, genders, sexualities and religions and finally, it would appear that LGBT people are being represented fairly on screen. So with all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the best of the bunch, with the Top 50 LGBT characters on screen.

50. Joe Orton – Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

Played by Gary Oldman.

 

This biopic about the rise and fall of the acclaimed British playwright highlights all his self-assured idiosyncrasies that cemented him as the wunderkind of UK theatre. Oldman is boyishly charming, reminiscent of a young John Hurt, oozing the charisma of a man unable to see the fatal flaw that will later destroy him: the way he neglects his partner. 

49. John ‘Plato’ Crawford – Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

Played by Sal Mineo.

 

In a film literally riddled with gay undertones, Plato is the closest the film comes to being explicit about sexuality. He’s in love with James Dean (aren’t we all though?) and will do absolutely anything for him; but it’s pretty damned clear that his devotion is more than platonic. What results is a pioneering adorable character, whose devotion to this tearaway can only lead to disaster. 

48. Dorothy Michaels – Tootsie (1982)

Played by Dustin Hoffman.

 

From Some Like It Hot to Mrs Doubtfire, gender-bending has been the source of much Hollywood comedy over the years, but while films like these could never be made today, Hoffman’s performance in Tootsie goes far above just playing for laughs. Dorothy is a loveable and loving woman and though we know all is not what it seems, this is a character that makes us see beyond gender, which was an achievement for its time! 

47. Mark – Pride (2014)

Played by Ben Shenkman.

 

Pride is a film rich with characters, but it is Mark who stands out from the others. Committed, proactive and passionate, his devotion to the cause is what keeps the Movement going and where others fear to stand up and be counted, he offers himself as tribute. And when you find out what happens to this real-life figure after this story, it makes him all the bigger hero. 

46. Sin-Dee – Tangerine (2015)

Played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez.

 

Sin-Dee is a trans sex worker, out on the streets of LA on Christmas Eve trying to avenge her boyfriend’s infidelity. This amazing performance from an unknown actress is striking for its street-smart realism, which unflinchingly presents her job without letting judgement bleed into the joyful sass of this headstrong character. 

45. Barbara Covett – Notes On A Scandal (2006)

Played by Judi Dench.

There's no doubt that Barbara is a psychopath. Completely in denial about her sexuality, she moves from "special friendship" to "special friendship", as each develops from pleasantries to obsession. As we hear her narrative through the diaries she keeps, she celebrates the minor successes as landmark moments, placing great weight on moments that others would dismiss as insignificant and getting angry when the feelings aren't reciprocated. Dench is at her absolute best here in the adaptation of the best-selling novel, making the character's sexuality a lot more explicit than it appears in the book. 

44. Mike Waters – My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Played by River Phoenix.

 

Mike is a narcoleptic street hustler who keeps waking up after long blackouts. In love with his best friend and obsessed with finding his mother, the storyline is loosely based Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 & 2 and Henry V. Phoenix is iconic in this, one of the final roles before his death, creating the perfect archetype of the 90s grunge sexually ambiguous blonde-haired tortured soul.

43. Ste Pearce – Beautiful Thing (1996)

Played by Scott Neall.

 

An entire generation of gay men fell in love with Ste. He was so quintessentially 90s and so quintessentially everything that was cool. In the era of New Labour and Man Utd and Cool Britannia, he was a strong but vulnerable football-playing working class hero who simply fell in love with another boy. As the object of Jamie’s affection, he is the object of everyone else’s too. 

42. Sister George – The Killing Of Sister George (1968)

Played by Beryl Reid.

 

This film was a truly monumental depiction of lesbian on screen when it was first released, but now it’s easy to look at Reid’s performance as stereotypical and archaic. However, it’s this slightly unhinged melodramatic angry archetype in its purest form and though the way she pursues women is, at times, somewhat predatory, she is utterly compelling in the way she is unable to stand up to the system despite her strength elsewhere. 

41. Phillip Morris – I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)

Played by Ewan McGregor.

 

While the comedy revolves around Jim Carey’s central showy performance, it is McGregor who really steals the show in this true story. He is sweet, charming but dim and it’s easy to see how Carey’s Steven risks absolutely everything to be with him after they meet in prison. This comedy caper could only happen within a same-sex relationship, with the two trying to be celled together throughout their stay in prison. 

40. Hector – The History Boys (2006

Played by Richard Griffiths.

 

In the film adapted from Alan Bennett’s hugely successful play, Griffiths plays a teacher who is tasked with expanding his sixth form students’ ability to reason and thus get into the top universities. However he has a predilection for young men, which ends up with his dismissal from school. But the students look beyond this, seeing a man who genuinely cares about them and wants them to succeed. 

39. Rita – Mulholland Drive (2000)

Played by Laura Harring.

 

For at least half of the population, the work of David Lynch is unintelligible nonsense. However, the fact that the movie is so enigmatic is what makes his work - and Mulholland Drive particularly - so compelling and there is no character more enigmatic than Rita. Rescued from a car accident with no memory, it’s easy to see why Naomi Watts’ character becomes so obsessed with her. The femme fatale is so mysterious that you spend the entire film entirely unsure of whether she is the heroine or the villain of the piece. Marking is excellent and it’s a real shame that her career didn’t flourish after playing this iconic role. 

38. Jules – The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Played by Julianne Moore.

 

Annette Bening received the Oscar nomination for this film, but really it’s Julianne Moore that shines in this brilliant family drama about a lesbian couple’s children who want to reconnect with their biological father. Jules belongs to feel a connection with the man who fathered their children above and beyond what she expected and as she struggles to understand the familial connection this stranger has on all their lives, lines begin to blur. A complex and at times unlikeable character, Moore gives an excellent performance that portrays the reality of Queer parentage.  

37. Elio – Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Played by Timothée Chalamet.

 

On paper, this film looked like a standard coming of age gay film, but in reality, it was a bubbling mass of teenage insecurities in which teenage insecurities are far more mature than adult untruths. Timothée Chalamaet’s earned the unknown young actor an Oscar nomination for his remarkably recognisable Elio, a character whose sexuality is less of an issue than of his finding himself as a young artistic intellectual. The combination of his vulnerability and sexual voraciousness make for a character we can all relate to. 

36. Clarissa Vaughan – The Hours (2002)

Played by Meryl Streep.

 

It was Nicole Kidman who won the Oscar for The Hours playing Virginia Woolf, but actually, Streep’s performance as Clarissa, the middle-aged bisexual reading Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway, is the one that really strikes a chord with its audience. She is dealing with an ex-partner with AIDS who commits suicide in front of her, all the while reading the book that the film revolves around. She is a grounded woman, who’s relationship with another woman is almost incidental, as the film revolves around womanhood and who better to play the matriarch than the Great Mother Of Acting herself?

35. Mrs. Danvers – Rebecca (1940)

Played by Judith Anderson.

 

Mrs Danvers is the archetypal lesbian villain, who spawned a whole series of similar shock-frocked lesbian antagonists for decades after. However, this role cannot be tarnished with the same brush because in Hitchcock’s adaptation of the Daphne du Maurice best-seller, his giving the obsessive housekeeper a sexual motive for loving her previous mistress suddenly underpins the malice with which she hates the new Mrs de Winter a great deal of contextual sense. This still makes the woman terrifying, however. 

34. Patrick ‘Kitten’ Braden – Breakfast On Pluto (2005)

Played by Cillian Murphy.

 

In this true story about a young trans Irish woman who gets involved with the IRA, Murphy plays this fantasist character with aplomb, depicting a damaged woman whose past does nothing but exacerbate her present, making choices based on glamour over sensibility. Perpetually at the brunt of all a stream of abusers, the film follows her life and is unflinching in its depiction of her foolish idiosyncrasies that are in equal part charming and infuriating. 

33. Emma – Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)

Played by Lea Seydoux.

 

In the French Palme d’Or winner, Seydoux plays the titular blue-haired Emma, who beguiles and perplexes the 15 year old Adele. Enigmatic and mysterious, the young art student fascinates both Adele and the audience alike, with her Mona Lisa expressions doing nothing but intriguing us all the more. Initially it feels like this figure is indicative that even the most inaccessible of figures are accessible, but as time passes and her motives become more and more foggy, we realise that she is, indeed, an enigma and she will only be accessible when she wants to be. 

32. Tom Ripley – The Talented Mr Ripley (2000)

Played by Matt Damon.

 

Tom Ripley is a psychopath. His charming and boyish exterior present him as simply a social climber at first, but as he becomes more and more obsessed with the life of man hose identity he periodically assumes, his obsession turns dangerous. Played with the perfect balance between Damon’s foppish charm and some seriously sinister behaviour, he makes for the perfect antihero as we will him to get away with his rapidly growing list of crimes. 

31. Truman Capote – Capote (2005)

Played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

 

It is testament to the quality of the script that Truman Capote’s sexuality, a wildly extravagant and effete figure, is something that is never even mentioned in the biopic about the legendary American writer. Hoffman’s performance won him an Oscar, which is hardly surprising when you see this society figure making the deepest of connections with a serial killer. The juxtaposition of these two worlds colliding is what makes this such a fascinating film, while this fish-out-of-water character is indelibly magnetic as he finds himself more and more consumed by the darker side of the story he uncovers.

30. Catherine Tramell – Basic Instinct (1992)

Played by Sharon Stone.

 

OK, so despite its depiction of lesbians as fatal villains, there is no doubt over how iconic Sharon Stone’s performance as the murderous Tramell is. A whole generation of men and women found themselves falling head over heels in lust as the provocative, slick-haired, ice blonde sat in that interrogation room and slowly uncrossed her legs. She is the archetypal femme fatale of new-noir and the character was in a same-sex relationship. 

29. Laurence Alia – Laurence Anyways (2012)

Played by Melvil Poupaud.

 

In what is probably Xavier Dolan’s most nuanced and accomplished film, the story hinges around Laurence, an artistic literature teacher who reveals herself as transgender, much to the confusion and derision of her family and friends. A complex look at gender, this central performance underpins the film with a mournful soul, whose facade tells little of the turmoil happening within, coming to light most strikingly with partner Frederique. 

28. Liberace - Behind The Candelabra (2013)

Played by Michael Douglas.

 

When I came out to my parents, they had no idea I was gay. Now I’m not saying that I was as camp as Liberace, but my parents were just as deluded as the legions of female fans who thought the hyper-extravagant singer simply “sensitive”. In this biopic, Michael Douglas gives an astonishing performance as the legendary pianist whom everyone humoured, keeping his sexuality an open secret. Image obsessed and addicted to luxury, his decline into hedonism is both fascinating and wildly absurd, making for utterly brilliant viewing. 

27. Lili Elbe - The Danish Girl (2015)

Played by Eddie Redmayne.

The Danish Girl was an ambitious part for any actor to take on, but Redmayne is resplendent as Lili, the first person to undergo full gender reassignment surgery. Following her from the days when she was Einar, we are shown her full journey as she transitions, struggling with her dual identities. Her relationship with her wife is also put under the microscope, as the film tackles the differences between gender identity and sexuality. A truly progressive LGBT masterpiece, but set against the beautiful sweeping backdrops of 19th century Europe.

26. Megan - But I'm A Cheerleader (1999)

Played by Natasha Lyonne

For the lead in a teen comedy, Megan is an unusual character. Unlike most protagonists in this genre, she is not clued-in, omniscient or even sentient about her predicament. Though her parents insist she is gay, sending her to a gay conversion camp, she is insistent that she is not. But instead of “curing” her, Megan’s time at the camp leads to a sexual awakening; the irony of which makes for fascinating viewing. Though her initial naiveté is clearly exaggerated, it makes her later awakening all the more satisfying.

25. Albert Goldman - The Birdcage (1996)

Played by Nathan Lane.

Albert’s husband, Armand, owns a drag club in South Beach, of which Albert is the star. Assuming the alter ego ‘Starina’, he is wildly flamboyant, but when Armand’s son returns to announce his wedding, Albert is forced to butch up, attempting to pass as a straight man for the wedding. What ensues is a hilarious farce, in which Nathan Lane shines in the role he was born to play. Camp, eccentric and completely outrageous, this is effeminate clowning at its absolute finest, paving the way for the Jack McFarlands of the modern era.

24. Therese Belivet - Carol (2015)

Played by Rooney Mara.

Sometimes, showing restraint is as impressive a skill as a physically taxing performance from an actor. In Carol, the titular character is definitely the showier role, but without the quiet intensity of Therese, the film would be nothing. Mara shows as much with a look or glance as Blanchett does with twenty lines. What makes Therese so compelling is that in this story of forbidden love, her complexity comes from her simplicity. Simply, she has fallen in love. But at this time, this meant something incredibly complex and it’s in boiling this down to her unassuming reasoning that the social attitude appears all the more ludicrous.

23. Rayon - Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Played by Jared Leto.

Despite disappointment that Rayon was not played by a trans actress, Leto’s performance drew great acclaim, including winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Witty and brash, she provided the heart that turned Ron Woodruff from the homophobic selfish rodeo-king into the man willing to risk everything to help others infected with HIV. The yin to his yang, she makes his most unlikely of sidekicks, before we learn of her tragic story as well, as she progresses through the late stages of AIDS. A touching and sensitive portrayal, Leto’s supporting performance is one of the greatest this century.

22. Jack Twist - Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

At the centre of the masterpiece Brokeback Mountain are two astonishing performances. Jack Twist is probably the more identifiable role for most gay men. Yearning to be with Ennis, but unable to due to circumstance, it is Jack who is seemingly able to overcome his internal barriers. But he is tragically presented with Ennis’ too, which unfortunately he cannot influence. Gyllenhaal brings striking sensitivity to the role, in one of the most tragic romances ever to appear on film.

21. Alan Turing - The Imitation Game (2014)

Played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

There’s no doubt that the story of Alan Turing is one of the most tragic in history. A truly great mathematician, whose work had a direct impact in saving millions of lives, his whole legacy was tarnished when tried and convicted of homosexuality. Cumberbatch’s portrayal earned him an Oscar nomination, in which we saw a man fully able to compartmentalise his sexuality as just a part of his character, but forced to address it by a society who could not accept it as such. What results is a heart-breaking tragedy.

20. Jonny Burfoot - My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Played by Daniel Day Lewis.

Jonny is a street punk, operating as part of a racist gang of thugs. But when he encounters his childhood friend Omar, with whom he had a romantic relationship while at school, he is forced to confront his lifestyle, opinions and sexuality, head on. At a time when homosexuality was rarely depicted on screen, this was a bold film, portraying gay men as normal and fully-rounded people, with the same drive and motivations and everyone else. And Daniel Day Lewis brings the same gravitas to the role as he does the rest of his acclaimed back catalogue.

19. George Falconer - A Single Man (2009)

Played by Colin Firth.

We know at the beginning of the film that George intends to kill himself. What follows is an intense examination of grief, depression and a person’s reason to carry on living. Yes, George is gay, but this is a story about a truly deep love that transcends sexuality and gender. That it’s set in the 1950s makes A Single Man all the more powerful, but Firth’s Oscar nominated performance is nuanced enough not to be tacky and heartfelt enough to be deeply effecting. Though not an especially showy role, this is one of the most complex and comprehensive character studies of gay men as yet seen on screen.

18. Michael Alig - Party Monster (2003)

Played by Macaulay Culkin.

Is Michael Alig a monster? Based on the real-life story of the rise and fall of New York’s most infamous club kid, Culkin brings surprising depth to a character that could easily have become a pantomime villain. A fable of the perils of excess, Party Monster follows Alig’s descent into depravity as he swaps innocence and ambition for arrogance and corruption. Even though this is essentially a cautionary tale, the layers of eccentricity and flamboyance are underpinned by a strong performance, which is at the heart, beneath all the sequins and makeup.

17. Orlando – Orlando (1992)

Played by Tilda Swinton.

 

Orlando is a magnetic film. Following a young courtesan at Queen Elizabeth’s court, Tilda Swinton plays the young man who lives a charmed life, bequeathed a large estate by the queen as long as he never ages. The film then follows him over the resulting centuries right through to the present day, falling in and out of love, adapting to the times and even changing gender midway through. A sensitive but complex character, Swinton plays on her androgyny to great effect, depicting trans issues of identity in the most mystical of circumstances.

16. Aileen Wuornos - Monster (2003)

Played by Charlize Theron.

No, Aileen was not a positive figure in history. However, Theron’s sensitive portrayal of an otherwise controversial subject warrants her inclusion on this list. Wuornos’ hatred of men is what led her to kill so many people, but the intensity of her love for Selby is the one thing that maintains her humanity. Though many would like to have portrayed her as the eponymous monster, Theron gave a heart to a woman who would otherwise have been completely alienating to an audience used to delighting in the villainy of psychopaths.

15. George Downes - My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)

Played by Rupert Everett.

We might find it clichéd now, but the stylish GBF (gay best friend) was still a relatively new concept in the 90s. And while this character trope did nothing to further the LGBT cause, it certainly played a part in normalising the public’s perception of gay men. And the greatest of these was George Downes. Suave, dapper and sophisticated, George is the kind of gay man that everyone wanted around them. He offers advice, gives compliments when needed and has exquisite taste in everything refined. Although now an archetype, no GBF has ever been quite as fabulous ever since.

14. Bree Osbourne - Transamerica (2005)

Played by Felicity Huffman.

In this deftly sensitive road-trip movie, Bree drives across America after she realises that she fathered a son before she transitioned. Her son is hustling on the streets of New York, but despite the supposed liberality of both’s positions, they are confronted with issues that neither knows how to deal with along the way. Although they are both socially different from the norm, it is their attempt to form a more common bond that neither can really come to terms with. Huffman is brilliant in this Oscar nominated role and portrays a beautifully complex and nuanced character.

13. Dil - The Crying Game (1992)

Played by Jaye Davidson.

The Crying Game is a story about transgenderism, masquerading as a film about the IRA. After promising a dying British soldier that he will look after his girlfriend, Fergus – a member of the IRA – tracks down Dil in London. He immediately falls in love with her, but upon discovering she is transgender, is unable to understand his feelings. While the film focuses on Fergus’ feelings, Dil is depicted as a sensitive but headstrong young girl, with a magnetic sexuality. But her innocence gives way to a dangerous nature, as she is revealed as a daring femme fatale. This role earned Davidson an Oscar nomination and is remembered as one of the greatest depictions of trans women on film.

12. Quentin Crisp – The Naked Civil Servant (1975) / An Englishman In New York (2009)

Played by John Hurt.

 

It’s amazing how, despite homosexuality was only partially decriminalised in 1967, the UK took as camp a figure as Crisp to their hearts so quickly. Hurt’s performance as the notoriously effeminate writer and ex-rentboy won him BAFTA, defying the homophobia of the time due to his acerbic wit and gentle but sharp tongue. Hurt resumed the role in 2009, following the controversial figure through his later years. 

11. Divine - Pink Flamingos (1972)

Played by Divine.

Yes, Divine is disgusting. But there is something satisfying in the depths of her filth that makes you feel better about yourself, that you could never be as vile as her. From her physical appearance to the tone of her voice, Divine was all about exaggeration. And in Pink Flamingos, she is at her most extreme; deadly, repulsive and sordid. And when she finally tucks in to that nugget of dogshit, it hardly comes as a surprise.

10. Albin Mougeotte – La Cage Aux Folles (1978)

Played by Michel Serrault.

 

Ok, The Birdcage is a great remake, but it doesn’t manage to plunge to the same levels of absurdity as the French original. Albin is hyper-camp; completely un-self-aware, shameless and shrill. Neurotic and hilarious, this archetypal figure became one of the most iconic LGBT characters in cinema and, despite his ridiculousness, makes for very entertaining viewing as he masquerades as a woman to meet his son’s potential in-laws for the first time as his partner believes it more believable that he pretend to be a woman rather than a straight man. 

9. Harvey Milk - Milk (2008)

Played by Sean Penn.

As well as being one of the greatest LGBT people in history, his portrayal on film is definitely one of the strongest depictions of LGBT people on film. Earning Sean Penn an Oscar, this role charts the rise and fall of the first openly gay politician to hold public office in the USA, from his arrival in San Francisco until his assassination in 1978. A sensitive portrayal, which displays his idiosyncrasies alongside his strengths, the injustice of his death becomes all the more upsetting because of how likeable this pioneer actually was.

8. Lisbeth Salander - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009/2011) The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009) The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (2009) The Girl In The Spider's Web (2018)

Played by Noomi Rapace/Rooney Mara/Clare Foy

Lisbeth is the definition of an outsider. A bisexual goth hacker, she is the most unlikely of movie heroines, but in the Millennium series it is through examining her character that we relate more  to her than we do those more recognisable to us. Lisbeth is incredibly intelligent, socially awkward and often determinedly self-centred, but these attributes only underline her vulnerabilities that, instead of undermining her, only add to how much we root for her as she battles with murderers, gangsters and corrupt politicians.

7. Hedwig Robinson - Hedwig And The Angry Inch (2000)

Played by John Cameron Mitchell.

Hedwig’s backstory is complicated, to say the least. Born Hansel in Communist East Berlin, he makes a plan to run to the West by undergoing gender reassignment surgery and marrying an American GI. Unfortunately, the surgery goes wrong and Hedwig is left to deal with the consequences. But as a budding rockstar, she begins a complicated relationship with the naïve but sensitive Tommy Gnosis, who falls in love with her, but cannot accept her gender. The pain that Hedwig experiences is then played out through heartfelt songs and a touchingly intense performance from Mitchell.

6. Brandon Teena - Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Played by Hilary Swank.

The relatively unknown Hilary Swank would win her first Oscar for the role of a Teena, a character based on the true story of a trans man in Nebraska, who spends his life desperately trying to fit in, only to fall victim of a hate crime. Teena is a shy man, wanting to pass under the radar and find love. Having moved away from home in order to have a new start, he has fled his former identity, but he is unable to escape forever, with truly tragic ramifications. Boys Don’t Cry is a heart-breaking and moving story with a wholly human character at its centre.

5. Bernadette - The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994)

Played by Terence Stamp.

It takes a lot to upstage a pair of drag queens, but in Priscilla, Terence Stamp does exactly that. For all the outrageousness of her friends, Bernadette is sensible and grounded, keeping the queens safe from the world that is essentially directly opposed to them. Ironically, due to being transgender, it is she who had the most to lose from their outlandish behaviour, but by seeing her own cause within their eccentric behaviour, she embraces their fun, despite struggling through her own grief from losing her partner. A performance of great subtlety from Stamp, this character is what changes Priscilla from a campy romp into a truly great movie.

4. Little/Chiron/Black – Moonlight (2017)

Played by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders & Trevante Rhodes.

 

There’s something nothing quite impressive about the way this trio of actors bring to life an otherwise shy and retiring character over three chapters of his life. Growing up in a deprived family, he lands on the wrong side of the tracks, falling in with a group of people that he shouldn’t, but only doing what has to in order to survive. And the whole while, he is keeping the secret of his sexuality beneath his hat, of which he is not ashamed, instead choosing to not let that define him. And despite his tough exterior in the final part, Rhodes’ performance that really delves beneath his skin, revealing the softest of centres beneath the hardest of shells. 

3. Ennis Del Mar - Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Played by Heath Ledger.

Should we dislike Ennis? Eventually it is him that prevents either himself or Jack from being happy, but the complexity of his reasons make it difficult to dislike him. A masculine but quiet man, all he wants is to live a happy and unassuming life, but his sexuality does not allow him to do that. He doesn’t want to protest, buck the trend or draw attention to himelf, but to have what he wants would be to force that upon him. It is this tragic conundrum that makes Brokeback Mountain so compelling and leaves Ennis such an interesting, yet frustrating, character.

2. Dr Frank N. Furter - The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Played by Tim Curry.

The significance of Rocky Horror cannot be underestimated. Despite being cast as its villain, the “sweet transvestite” Dr. Frank N. Furter showed a trans character in a position of great power, living unabashed, proud of what she is. Sassy and sexy, she is a femme fatale who is more intelligent than everyone around her. Even though her empowerment has brought her to evil, she is empowered nonetheless, turning her into the first truly iconic trans character in the cannon of modern cinema. And cheesy as the film is, there must be some credit in convincing straight men the world over that they want to dress up in drag, even if it’s just for one novelty night.

1. Carol Aird - Carol (2015)

Played by Cate Blanchett.

If Carol was set in the present, we would still be praising her representation as a headstrong and confident lesbian. But because the film is set in 1960s New York, we are shown how even the most mentally balanced and level-headed people can be undone by the oppression of an intolerant society. The film refuses to shy away from the reality of being gay before its decriminalisation and Carol is the perfect depiction of the injustice of these attitudes. She is not victim, or an activist. She is simply someone wanting to be able to live truthfully, but her circumstances get in the way.

In a role that earned Cate Blanchett an Oscar nomination, this is a timeless film that perfectly epitomises the struggles of so many LGBT People, without descending into melodrama or enforcing a political statement. Carol Aird is a woman to aspire to be, as someone we empathise with. And this, for a LGBT character, is what we ask of most. We want to see ourselves in them; proud, sane and fabuolous. Carol Aird is precisely that.

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