From Mexico to Chile, films centered on queer narratives have had a long and complicated journey into mainstream cinema. Censorships, politics and prejudice are all obstacles for the the genre, particularly in Latin America, where LGBTQ+ individuals are largely underrepresented in all media.
In this list, we’ve selected six films that highlight the queer experience in Latin communities and how Latin America’s political and societal divisions play into these experiences.
These films are a melange of sad yet honest stories, full of nuanced representations of queer love. Despite the films’ depictions of a distressing reality for marginalized individuals, these stories do not negate humanity and do not erase the presence of love and happiness in the queer community. These films never resort to the language of shame and guilt. Instead, they serve to empower and, in their sadness, still capture the spirit of pride and unabashed assertion of self. In wounds exist beauty, and in that beauty, there is self-love.
1. Y Tú Mamá También (2001)
Y Tú Mamá También follows two teenage boys and an older woman driving throughout Mexico on a journey of sexual self-discovery and actualized desire. Alfonso Cuarón delivers a portrait that illustrates the spirit of unbridled youth. He brilliantly captures the freedom of summer and the playfulness of eroticism, while simultaneously scrutinizing the class inequities of Mexico in the early 2000s. But, more than anything, Y Tú Mamá También is a raw coming-of-age story, teeming with sexuality and wide-eyed lust for the future.
Available to stream on: Amazon and iTunes.
2. Una Mujer Fantástica (2017)
This film centers on the struggles of a transgender woman living in Santiago, seeking to gain acceptance and recognition in a world rife with transphobia. Throughout the film, the protagonist receives the treatment of a second-class citizen. She is constantly misgendered and even barred from grieving the death of a romantic interest. Shot in various styles of cinematography, at times terrifyingly realistic, others surreal, Una Mujer Fantástica tenderly and poetically sketches this sense of grief and estrangement.
In Chile, a nation still mourning the homophobic murder of Daniel Zamudio, this film had immense political implications, inspiring a renewed spirit toward the fight for the rights of sexual minorities. It led to a meeting between the Chilean president and the lead of Una Mujer Fantástica, Daniela Vega.
Available to stream on: Amazon and iTunes.
3. Fresa y Chocolate (1993)
Set in Cuba under Castrist rule, a hypermasculine political regime led by Fidel Castro that persecuted members of the LGBTQ community and censored dissident artists, Fresa y Chocolate details the story of a gay artist and a spy. Within this story of deceit and confusion, this film explores the complicated process of reconciliation: political extremes convene, and enemies become friends.
Available to stream on: Youtube.
4. Happy Together (1997)
Directed by Hong Kong-based filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, Happy Together relates the story of a couple drifting in and out of love, violently and languidly, while visiting and eventually overstaying in Argentina. In a film full of intimate embraces, sultry tangos, and solitary tears, Kar-wai explores the pains and joys of both love and alienation with aching beauty.
Available to stream on: Criterion and HBO Max.
5. Retablo (2017)
This film displays a relationship between father and son — once defined through their shared craft of devotional tableaus — jeopardized when the son encounters his father in an illicit sexual encounter with another man. Retablo is a film that gracefully depicts absence and silence. This film beautifully displays what is invisible on the surface, exploring themes of secrecy, internalized shame, and the implicit existence of homophobia.
Available to stream on: Amazon, Tubi, Kanopy, Youtube, and iTunes.
6. The Way He Looks (2014)
The Way He Looks tells the coming-of-age story of a blind Brazilian teen. It is a narrative of untainted love, where affection lacks the pressures of stress and isolation. The central, relatable relationship is, in a word, heartwarming, with each scene between them pure and delicate. Like its most memorable image, that of two boys smiling and riding a bike into the sunset, The Way He Looks almost overwhelms you with its beauty.
Available to stream on: Amazon, Kanopy, and iTunes.