In a year when marriage equality became the law of the land, Hollywood — particularly film — was playing some catch-up when it came to LGBT representation. TV came into the year already offering a fairly diverse array of lesbian, bisexual and transgender female characters. Film, however, had a lot of explaining to do after 2014 had only two lesbian characters grace the big screen.
So how’d they do in 2015? It was a year that boasted many pleasant discoveries, and a few terrible stinkers. Here is a look at the top ten film/TV moments of the year for queer women. Some were surprising, some were disappointing and some were incredibly exciting. All helped to make 2015 a truly memorable year for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in pop culture.
10. Everyone hates “Stonewall.”
The Roland Emmerich flop is proof positive that intersectionality must always be a part of the gay rights movement. When it became clear the story about the seminal Stonewall Riots had left out trans activists, people of color and queer women, a rightful backlash began against the film. Instead of focusing on the many real-life heroes, the movie chose to create a fictional white male hero. That sort of white-washing, revisionist history is bad for the LGBT community and bad for box office.
9. “Grandma” drives Lily Tomlin back into the spotlight.
While she already made a comeback earlier in the year with the Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie,” Tomlin truly proved her power in the indie sleeper “Grandma.” The legendary comic and out performer plays a prickly lesbian poet trying to help her granddaughter get an abortion. The film was also one of the few to showcase a lesbian actress in her seventies.
8. “Person of Interest” goes there with Root and Shaw.
If a fairly conventional network show like “Person of Interest” (which is on stodgy CBS, for God’s sake) can successfully transition its previously-perceived-as-straight characters into a same-sex relationship based on fan response, any show can. The sci-fi crime drama made it official when it came to the slow-burn subtext developing between hacker Root (Amy Acker) and assassin Shaw (Sarah Shahi). Granted, it also put a major obstacle in the way of their happily ever after. But that it suggested they even want one together in the first place was a big deal to its queer female viewers.
7. “Tangerine” makes a splash at Sundance.
This indie film first made waves for being shot entirely on iPhones. But it soon became clear that the film is even more revolutionary than the initial hype suggested: "Tangerine" is perhaps the first true trans buddy comedy. Even better still, this is a rare film featuring trans characters that also cast trans actors in those roles. Its central characters are played by trans actresses of color Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, and the story revolves around their friendship. How incredibly refreshing.
6. Annalise Keating likes ladies on “How to Get Away with Murder.”
In its second season the much-buzzed-about Shonda Rhimes production revealed that its leading character not only had past relationships with women (in addition to her previously revealed relationships with men), but was happy to continue those relations into the present. Though, if Famke Janssen was your ex, wouldn’t you, too? Best of all, with Rhimes’ impressive track record of lesbian and bisexual representation on shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” we trust it will be more than just a gimmick.
5. Netflix delivers on diversity.
While some thought the third season of “Orange Is the New Black” lacked narrative drive, I consider it rather extraordinary. This was the season people stopped shipping Alex/Piper and started shipping Poussey/Soso. The subtle allegiance shift, from the show’s central white female same-sex relationship to a new same-sex relationship featuring two women of color, was just one of the ways Netflix delivered on diverse LGBT characters this year. The streaming service also debuted “Sense8,” featuring a trans woman dating a black woman, and “Master of None,” featuring out African-American comic Lena Waithe.
4. “Freeheld” finally reaches theaters.
Seven years in the making, “Freeheld” truly was a passion project for its out star Ellen Page. A year after telling the world she was gay, Page starred in her first on-screen lesbian role in the real-life story of a couple who fought to have their marriage recognized by local government. Page said the part even helped inspire her to come out about her own sexuality, saying she couldn’t imagine playing the part while still being closeted.
3. Caitlyn Jenner comes out as a trans woman.
National news, magazine covers, major awards and a reality show. It has been a heck of a year for Caitlyn Jenner, who came out as transgender in a sit-down interview with Diane Sawyer in April. Since then, she has become a lightening rod for both praise and criticism. While, as a rich white woman, she has obvious privileges not afforded to most in the trans community, she has still helped to shed a spotlight on trans issues. We can only hope she will strive to use her platform to fight against the discrimination, violence and hatred far too many trans people face on a daily basis.
2.”Transparent” gets better with age.
Critics agree: “Transparent” is even better in its second season. The rich tapestry of weirdness that makes families families and humans humans continues to be exposed with pathos and humor in the Amazon original series. The show from creator Jill Soloway has also taken steps to be more trans inclusive in front of and behind the scenes by hiring the show’s first trans writer. The production continues to include trans actors, directors, production crew and more in an effort to be inclusive and authentic. The series also continues to explore its queer female relationships, both with Sarah and Tammy getting married and Ali and Syd starting a relationship. In other words, keep on keeping on, you marvelously dysfunctional Pfeffermans.
1. “Carol” is the lesbian film we’ve been waiting for.
I’ll admit it, I was wrong. Earlier this year I mused about whether “Freeheld” would be our great gay hope. If it was the lesbian film to finally break through into the mainstream and be our “Brokeback Mountain” or “Philadelphia.” If it was the lesbian film with mass appeal and critical acclaim that could maybe even move the dial on LGBT acceptance.
Well, I wasn’t wrong about the outcome — just about which movie would get us there. “Carol” is the lesbian film we’ve been waiting for. A truly transcendent piece of cinema, the period film by Todd Haynes transports audiences into the beautiful ache of falling in love. At once timeless and a keen exploration of its period setting, this movie boasts exquisite performances and chemistry from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. “Carol” has already made many critics’ Top 10 lists and, if there is any justice in the universe, should be a strong contender for the Oscars. My only complaint? That it is opening so agonizingly slowly across the country and internationally. We all deserve to see this movie immediately, if not sooner.