10 LGBTQ+ Movies with Women in the Lead, Directed by Women

Written by Malin Evita

Happy Pride! Enjoy this selection of queer narrative movies with women in the lead, all directed by women as well. In alphabetical order:

APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR, dir. Desiree Akhavan (2014)

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Directed by bisexual filmmaker Desiree Akhavan, Appropriate Behaviour is a queer-focused comedy about Shirin (beautifully portrayed by Akhavan herself), a secret bisexual woman as her identity, traditional Persian values from her family, and relationship with her girlfriend Maxine clashes.

BESSIE, dir. Dee Rees (2015)

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Bessie is a biopic of the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith (portrayed by Queen Latifah) who rose to fame in the 1920s. The movie, directed by lesbian filmmaker Dee Rees, showcases her trials and tribulations in her career but also personal life. Bessie was an openly bisexual woman and had relationships with both men and women. While the movie is not focused solely on her personal relationships, it makes note to show this part of her identity as an iconic and celebrated queer woman of a time where her identity was not accepted.

ÌFÉ, dir. Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim (2020)

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Ìfé is the first Nigerian movie about two women’s love story that does not feature harmful stereotypes and portrayed their love with truth, passion, and heart. It is directed by queer filmmaker Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim, who (alongside her other collaborators on the movie) was threatened with a prison sentence by Nigeria’s National Board of Film and Video Censors for “encouraging homosexuality.” To avoid the strict homophobic censorship laws, the team decided to put the movie on the streaming platform EhTV Network, which advocates for social change and LGBTQ inclusion in Nigeria. It is a beautiful, thirty-five minute, historic movie that I will guarantee you’ll love,

LINGUA FRANCA, dir. Isabel Sandoval (2019)

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Lingua Franca follows the story of undocumented, trans Filipina immigrant Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) who works as a carer for Olga, an elderly Russian-Jewish woman in Brooklyn, who is in the early stages of dementia. As Olivia’s fears of ICE and deportation rise, she pursues a relationship with one of Olga’s grandsons in the pursuit of a green-card marriage. The movie is written, directed, produced, and edited by the star, Isabel Sandoval, who is also a trans Filipina immigrant. Though the story is not autobiographical, it is told with riveting truth and authenticity.

PARIAH, dir. Dee Rees (2011)

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Written and directed by Dee Rees, Pariah is a semi-autobiographical depiction of seventeen-year-old Alike from Brooklyn (portrayed by Adepero Odoye) as she is growing into her identity as a butch lesbian – to her parent’s disapproval. Forced into feminine clothing and pushed into church, Alike struggles between communities and acceptance from others and herself. This is a stunningly gripping film about finding yourself.

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, dir. Celine Sciamma (2019)

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Secluded on a French island in 1770, artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of the unwilling bride to be, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel.) Because of her resistance to pose for the portrait in protest of the marriage, Marianne paints her at night, observing her muse in secret by day. As the days go by, an unspoken bond and attraction between the two women grow. With delicacy and intimacy, filmmaker Celine Sciamme captures the female gaze with mesmerising intensity, producing a true must-watch.

RAFIKI, dir. Wanuri Kahiu (2018)

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When different paths of lives cross, Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyuvia) become entranced with each other and despite family, cultural, and political pressure, their love grows stronger. But the challenges of being truthful in a country where homosexuality is banned also grows stronger. Rafiki is a Kenyan romance drama directed by Wanuri Kahiu which is currently banned in the country due to “promoting lesbianism” and the fact that Kahiu refused to change the ending to be tragic. It is another historic movie with impact that overflood the barriers of censorship.

SAVING FACE, dir. Alice Wu (2004)

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Saving Face is a romcom directed by lesbian filmmaker Alice Wu about Wil (Michelle Krusiec), who has yet to tell her widowed mother that she is a lesbian. But when she finds out that her mother is pregnant and is kicked out by her own parents, she takes her in and conflicts arise in Wil’s relationship with openly gay Vivian (Lynn Chen.)

SHIVA BABY, dir. Emma Seligman (2021)

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This comedy, directed by bisexual filmmaker Emma Seligman, follows the directionless young Jewish bisexual college student Danielle (Rachel Sennot) as awkwardness and tension arise when her sugar daddy and ex-girlfriend encounter at a funeral service.

THE WATERMELON WOMAN, dir. Cheryl Dunye (1996)

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The Watermelon Woman is widely known as the first movie about Black lesbians, directed by an openly Black lesbian. The plot of the movie surrounds Cheryl (played by Cheryl Dunye herself), an aspiring Black lesbian filmmaker, as she falls into a rabbit hole researching the life of a Black actress from the ‘40s credited solely as the “Watermelon Woman”.

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Written by Malin Evita

Evita is the host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.

Website: malinevita.com | IG: @malinevita

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