The year onscreen

7 queer and trans movies and shows that made 2020 somewhat bearable

Let’s all take a long, deep breath: Finally, 2020—which will go down in history as the longest year ever—is almost over. Sure, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and working to topple the patriarchy and undo systemic inequities and prove Black trans lives matter and #EndSARS and defund the police and so on. But this trash box of a year is coming to an end and, with hope, giving way to a 2021 of brighter days.

Film and television have been a balm of sorts as we’ve seen our lives upended in pivotal ways. From cultural productions that serve as a means of escaping the ills of this world, to those that provide appropriate and necessary context to what we’re all experiencing, screens big and small have been a saving grace for many. In recognition of that, here are a few of the movies and shows that made 2020 not completely horrible. 

Work in Progress

It may be hard to remember, but 2020 actually started off with a bang. In fact, my first piece for Xtra was a glowing review of Showtime’s Work in Progress. Some 300 days later, I’m happy to say the series co-created and starring Abby McEnany is still *chef’s kiss*.

Loosely based on McEnany’s own life, her eponymous character is a 45-year-old “fat, queer dyke” who’s at once finally growing to accept herself and on the road to suicide. This might sound contradictory—and it is—but upon our lead character falling in love with a younger trans man played by The Politician’s Theo Germaine, things seem to take a turn for the better. If you want an example of what the best of queer and trans storytelling on TV can look like, this is the show for you. It’s gut-wrenchingly hilarious, super incisive and a great binge. 

Disclosure

Actress Jen Richards in Disclosure. Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

If I was a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the people who give out Oscars), I’d be casting my vote for Best Documentary for Sam Feder’s Disclosure, streaming on Netflix. Unfortunately, I’m not—so we’ll have to settle for recognition on this list. But if you haven’t yet watched this film, which chronicles the history of trans representation on screen since the beginning of moving images, your ally card might be in jeopardy. Executive produced by Laverne Cox and featuring an all-trans cast (including yours truly!) reflecting on how the media taught us all to hate trans people, this doc is necessary viewing.

 

Supermarket Sweep

Leslie Jones hosts Supermarket Sweep. Credit: Courtesy of Bell Media

In case you didn’t know, game shows are canonically queer (I don’t make the rules). Lucky for me, I’ve long been a fan, especially of those of my childhood whose reruns were often only available on the Game Show Network. One of my favorites was Supermarket Sweep, in which contestants ran through a grocery store competing for the longest receipt and the chance to win thousands of dollars. It was revived earlier this year with the fabulous Leslie Jones as host, and it has been a joy to watch her infectious energy each week on ABC in the U.S. and CTV in Canada.

P-Valley

Nicco Anan stars as Uncle Clifford in P-Valley. Credit: Courtesy of Starz

From the mind of noted playwright Katori Hall, P-Valley was the strip club drama of the year we didn’t know we needed. Centred on a popular club called The Pynk in a fictional Mississippi town, the show follows Uncle Clifford (who uses she/her pronouns), The Pynk’s owner and mother hen, and her gaggle of sex workers trying to survive and transcend their circumstances. I’ve been saying this series is art of the highest order, with some added gravy and seasoning salt, for the ways it has rendered its characters—who are often relegated to the lowest rings of our social order—as complex beings worthy of respect. 

The Forty-Year-Old Version

One of my favourite films of the year—maybe the decade—comes in the form of first-time filmmaker Radha Blank’s The Forty-Year-Old Version, streaming on Netflix. About a down-and-out playwright who attempts to salvage her voice by becoming a rapper at 40 years old, the film is a fresh take on the classic New York tale of an artist fighting to be heard while maintaining their authenticity. Blank is a visionary auteur in the making, and the way she treats her LGBTQ2S+ characters, with the same care and attention paid to the cishet characters, is refreshing.

Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story

It’s not often that we get to hear the lived experiences of our trans elders from their own mouths. After all, our cisheterosexist and white supremacist society has a way of snuffing out trans people, and some would like us to believe that being trans is a new-fangled creation sprung from a Hollywood writers room. But therein lies the beauty—and necessity—of Keyboard Fantasies, a doc that honours the Black trans excellence of living legend Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Directed by Posy Dixon, the film takes its name from one of his albums originally self-released on cassette in 1986 that, decades later, would catapult the musician into international stardom for his unique sound and approach to music. 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

By the time this list is published, you’re probably just getting ready to figure out your projected holiday viewing. Netflix’s adaptation of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which premieres on the streaming platform Dec. 18 and stars Viola Davis, needs to be at the top of your list.

The film, which follows “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey and her band as they record an album in 1920s Chicago, is Queen Viola’s best work—and yes, I know that’s saying a lot. The way she embodies the queer genius of Ma Rainey is amazing to witness opposite a stellar cast in Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman and the late Chadwick Boseman in his last role (also the best work of his career), among others. And while we still very much want to see LGBTQ2S+ actors cast in LGBTQ2S+ roles—and maybe there is also a need to talk about actors donning fat suits for certain characters—I think this film is important as we continue to reclaim and reassert the role of Black queer folks in history. 

Tre'vell Anderson

Tre'vell Anderson, Xtra's former editor-at-large, is a Los Angeles-based culture and entertainment journalist, social curator and world changer who always comes to slay!

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