One of the most striking things about Chris Bolan’s wonderful Netflix documentary, A Secret Love, is how close this remarkable story came to never being told. Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel’s relationship spanned nearly seven decades and, for most of that time, they had to keep their love secret.
If Terry and Pat had not revealed their relationship to their families or agreed to participate in Bolan’s film, we would never have known what it was like to be in a relationship at a time when much of society was dangerously homophobic. This is a story that needs to be told... not just because of the struggle, but also because of the love.
The documentaries collected below reveal inspiring stories of love and celebrate the power of community. They also remind us of vitally important chapters in LGBTQ history... chapters that should never be forgotten.
A Secret Love
A Secret Love has a beautiful story to tell. Meeting in 1947, Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel’s relationship went on to span nearly seven decades. For much of this time, it was extremely dangerous to be gay and the couple had to keep their love hidden - from their families and from the world.
Of Love And Law
Fumi and Kazu are partners in love and law; they run the first law firm in Japan set up by an openly gay couple. As lawyers driven by their own experience of being outsiders, they attract a range of clients who reveal the hidden diversity of a country that prides itself for collective obedience, politeness and conformity.
Tired of being silenced and made to feel invisible, the lawyers and their clients expose and challenge the archaic status quo that deems them second-class citizens. With the backdrop of civil liberties under attack, Of Love And Law poses universal questions about what it takes to be an individual, what it means to be a minority and what role a family plays in our increasingly polarised world.
We Were Here
In We Were Here, director David Weissman examines the origins of the AIDS epidemic and its devastating impact. This is an incredibly moving and heartbreaking documentary. However, We Were Here is also life affirming and uplifting. The film reminds us of the people - from nurses to activists - who rallied around those who were suffering and who now want to tell their stories.
My Name Is Pauli Murray
Pauli Murray was a pioneering Black attorney, activist, priest, poet and memoirist who wrestled with gender identity and shaped landmark litigation - and consciousness - around race and gender equity, and fought heavily in the battle for social justice.
As Betsy West and Julie Cohen's documentary moves through this fascinating life story, I wondered... why didn’t I know more about Pauli Murray? Why don’t we all know more about Pauli Murray? Thanks to this insightful and comprehensive film, I will certainly not forget their name.
Told mainly using Murray’s own words, West and Cohen’s wonderful portrait reveals Pauli Murray and explores the lasting impact of their work.
AIDS Diva: The Legend Of Connie Norman
Dante Alencastre’s powerful documentary, AIDS Diva, examines the remarkable life of Connie Norman. Norman was an LA-based activist who worked selflessly and tirelessly to raise awareness about AIDS. Outspoken, angry and unafraid of confrontation, Norman used her voice to make a difference - joining activist group, Act Up, after being diagnosed with HIV in 1987.
Using archive footage and photographs, AIDS Diva explores how Norman battled complacency, hatred and denial. She was passionate in her condemnation of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations for both failing to address the pandemic and failing to support HIV and AIDS patients in the '80s and early '90s.
Norman's weapons were her words - wielded on television shows (she was a natural in front of the camera), in articles and at countless protests and marches.
Cured tells the story of the social and medical injustice carried out in the US at a time when being gay was considered to be a mental illness that could be cured, a sexual deviance that must be addressed - a learned behaviour that had to be unlearned. Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer’s gripping documentary examines the impact of this damaging view via newly rediscovered archive footage and a series of insightful interviews.
From the beginning, Cured is a tough and often deeply upsetting watch. However, thanks to the courageous and tireless work of a group of incredible activists, a devastating chapter in LGBT history was closed. Fighting back proved to be the best cure.
Colors Of Tobi
A teenager living in a small rural village in Hungary, Tobi came out as trans male in his mid-teens. Colors Of Tobi follows Tobi on his, often challenging, journey. Meanwhile, Alexa Bakony’s intimate and insightful documentary also explores Tobi's mother Éva's story - as she endeavours to support her beloved child in an increasingly conservative country where trans rights are being eroded.
Disclosure is a powerful and moving examination of the representation of trans people on screen.
Sam Feder’s film features leading trans thinkers and artists - including Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, MJ Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, Jen Richards and Chaz Bono - and questions how trans depictions have affected the way people see trans people and how trans people see themselves.
I Am Samuel
While much progress has been made around the world in LGBTQ civil and human rights, it is sobering to consider that, in some countries, a person’s sexuality is still judged to be a crime. In Kenya, for example, Penal Code 162 (unnatural offences) and 165 (indecent practices between males) makes homosexuality a felony. Those found “guilty” can expect a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Pete Murmi’s intimate and compelling documentary, I Am Samuel, examines what life it is like to be a gay man in Kenya and live with such discrimination, repression and fear.
“The only time I entered a closet was to get me an outfit and a pair of pumps.” And just like that, I fell in love with Gloria Allen, a trailblazing 74-year old Black transgender activist who started a charm school to help Chicago's homeless trans youth carry themselves with dignity and pride.
We are, as transgender rights activist, Janet Mock, states (at 2014’s Trans 100 Awards), in the presence of a legend.
In engaging to-camera interviews (I could listen to her talk all day), Allen tells us her story - a tale of love, joy and grace. Born in Chicago in 1945, she explains that she always knew she was “a girl in the wrong body”.
PS. Burn This Letter Please
In 2014, a box was found in a storage unit in Los Angeles. The box contained hundreds of letters dating back to the 1950s - all of them were addressed to a former radio broadcaster called Reno Martin. The content of these letters proved to be a rich and rare archive, full of fabulous insights into a forgotten era - the underground drag scene in 1950s New York.
Featuring fascinating interviews, animated scenes and painstakingly researched archival material (the project took five years to complete), P.S. Burn This Letter Please brings this treasure trove of documents to life.
Reconstructing the experiences of the letter writers themselves - now all in their eighties and nineties - Michael Seligman and Jennifer Tiexiera’s wonderful and deeply moving documentary reveals powerful details about an invisible history.
Rebel Dykes tells the story of a group of friends who, after meeting at the Greenham Common peace camp in the 1980s (ready to protest the plan to place nuclear weapons at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, England), formed a close-knit chosen family and went on to become rebellious artists, performers, musicians and activists.
Using interviews, original music, animation and a rich archive of video footage and photographs, Harri Shanahan and Sian A. Williams’s spirited and empowering film documents their experiences (in what was, we are told, both a great time and a terrible time to be “young and queer in London”) and explores their legacy.
How did we get here? This is the question I asked myself while watching Shana Myara’s powerful documentary, Well Rounded. How did we arrive at a place where one body shape is valued far higher than another? When did we decide that weight loss - rather than health gain - was the ultimate goal? Why is society so fatphobic?
Well Rounded explores these questions by exploring powerful, human stories. We meet Candy, a comedian and broadcaster, Joanne, a tech specialist and comedian, Ivory, a dancer and actor and Lydia, a model and writer. They are all wonderful, beautiful, confident and engaging contributors - it is heartbreaking to hear their traumatic experiences.
The Ice King
John Curry transformed ice skating from a dated sport into an exalted art form. Following a news report about his sexuality on the night of his Olympic win in 1976, he also became the first openly gay Olympian in a time when homosexuality was not even fully legal.
Difficult yet charming; rebellious yet elitist; emotionally aloof yet spectacularly needy; ferociously ambitious yet bent on self-destruction, this is a man forever on the run: from his father’s ghost, his country, and even his own self.
Welcome To Chechnya
David France’s powerful and urgent documentary, Welcome To Chechnya, is an extremely tough but absolutely necessary watch. The film exposes the treatment of LGBTQI+ people in Chechnya who, since 2017, have been subject to an unbelievably violent campaign of persecution and extermination.
Encouraged by the Russian republic’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, LGBTQI+ Chechens have been detained, tortured and executed. Treated as a disgrace and seen as subhuman, their only hope is to escape. For that, they need the help of activists such as The Russian LGBT Network. This group helps them to flee the danger in Chechnya, offers them temporary shelter and tries to organise a place of long-term refuge.
France follows The Russian LGBT Network as it saves lives and raises awareness of the atrocities taking place. David Isteev and Olga Baranova serve as our guides and offer us disturbing insights into life as a LGBTQI+ Chechen.
No Ordinary Man
No Ordinary Man is a moving and insightful documentary about the life of jazz musician Billy Tipton. Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt’s film uses interviews, archival footage and a series of blind casting auditions to explore both his story and his legacy.
Born in Oklahoma in 1914, Tipton entered the world of jazz as a pianist and band leader. His incredible talent ensured a long and successful career. In 1958, he declined the opportunity to work with Liberace, opting instead to become a talent agent - and a husband and father of three adopted sons.
Tipton did not share his gender history with anyone. When he died in 1989, the fact that he was trans male was unceremoniously revealed to the world. Far from considering the human experience behind the story, the media saw only the possibility of lurid headlines, scandal and entertainment. While the Tipton family grieved, the media feasted.