8 LGBTQIA+ People Who Revolutionized the Film and TV Industry

From the earliest days of the film industry, LGBTQIA+ people have been a part of innovative and groundbreaking filmmaking through producing, editing, directing, writing, and more. However, many of these people have gone without their stories being told. 

Here, we’re going to take a look at some key LGBTQIA+ filmmakers and their impact on the industry: 

John Waters

Filmmaker John Waters has famously created cult movies known for their queer themes and subversive humor. He started his career making dark comedies such as Multiple Maniacs and Pink Flamingos before breaking into the mainstream with 1988’s Hairspray.

Waters’ campy films celebrate underdogs and shine a light on divisive political issues. His directing career spanned four decades, from the 1960s until the late 2000s. Other notable works include the 1994 movie Serial Mom and 2000’s Cecil B. Demented.

He still works as an actor appearing on popular TV shows, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Blacklist. He is also a visual artist and has created installations for galleries and museums across the globe. 

Lee Daniels

As a director, producer, and screenwriter, Lee Daniels is responsible for critically acclaimed movies such as Monster’s Ball and Precious. Daniels’s work is informed by his experience of growing up as a Black gay man in West Philadelphia. Daniels has created multiple TV series, such as Empire and Our Kind of People. He also serves as an executive producer on ABC’s The Wonder Years reboot. 

When he’s not creating art for the masses, Daniels supports various charities. He has been recognized for his work with AIDS organizations. He also contributed substantially to the Ghetto Film School, a nonprofit organization that brings filmmaking opportunities to high school students. 

Rain Valdez

Rain Valdez is a Filipino transgender actress, writer, and producer. In 2020, Valdez became only the second trans actress ever nominated for an acting Emmy when her YouTube show Razor Tongue earned her a nod for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series. Valdez has also appeared in the shows “Lopez” on TV Land and “Transparent” on Amazon. 

One of her primary motivations is to showcase the diversity of the trans community. She notes that not all trans people are the same, yet they are often painted into the same box. 

Additionally, Valdez founded the acting class ActNOW with the goal of enabling the next generation of LGBTQIA+ actors to safely explore their talent and guide a cultural shift in how queer and trans people are represented in film and television. 

Dee Rees

Dee Rees made quite an entrance with her 2011 full-length film debut Pariah, which was based on a short film she made earlier in her life. Loosely inspired by her own life, the movie follows a Black teenage girl as she explores her identity and deals with the aftermath of coming out. In 2022, the Library of Congress selected Pariah for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Following Pariah, Rees directed the HBO movie Bessie, in which Queen Latifah starred as the iconic bisexual blues singer Bessie Smith. The movie won an Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie. Rees has written, directed, and produced several other movies and TV shows. Recently, she has worked on When We Rise and Space Force

Alan Ball

Alan Ball is most notably known for creating the popular shows True Blood and Six Feet Under. He has also written several films, including American Beauty. His work helped introduce the world to multidimensional LGBTQIA+ characters, including True Blood’s Lafayette Reynolds and Six Feet Under’s David Fisher, who is often credited as one of the earliest realistic representations of a gay character. 

In 2020, Ball wrote and directed the movie Uncle Frank, which draws on the cultural climate of his own upbringing. Uncle Frank is set in the 1970s and follows a man who has to hide his sexual orientation from his family. Ball has referred to this movie as one of his most personal works. 

Jeremy O. Harris

A playwright and screenwriter best known for the 12-time Tony-nominated Slave Play, Jeremy O. Harris is on the rise. His work is known for being provocative and has earned significant critical recognition. Along with Slave Play, he wrote and produced the play Daddy, which explores the relationship between a young gay artist and an older, wealthy art collector. 

In addition to Harris’ on-stage work, he co-wrote the film Zola and serves as a coproducer and consultant on HBO’s Euphoria. He has also made tongue-in-cheek acting appearances: as fashion designer Gregory Elliot Dupree on the Netflix show Emily in Paris and as himself in the HBO Max reboot of Gossip Girl.

Lisa Cholodenko

Lisa Cholodenko is a screenwriter and director best known for the 2010 film The Kids Are Alright. Her work, beginning in the 1990s and continuing today, features honest representations of LGBTQIA+ characters.

Her films have been celebrated for depicting fully realized LGBTQIA+ people in an expansive way. The Kids Are Alright, for example, centers on a lesbian couple dealing with their kids growing up and the aftermath of their teenage son seeking out his biological dad. Cholodenko works in TV as well. Most recently, she worked on the Hulu mini-series The Girl From Plainville.

Janet Mock

Janet Mock is a writer, director, producer, and activist who has written two memoirs, Surpassing Certainty and Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. Both of her books explore her life as a Black and Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) trans woman.

She worked as a writer, director, and executive producer for Pose, an FX TV show. The show has won several awards, including the 2019 Peabody Award, the 2018 Trailblazer Award from Outfest Legacy Awards, and the 2020 Dorian Award for TV Drama of the Year from GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics. Additionally, FX stated, “In 2019, Mock signed a historic deal with Netflix, making her the first trans person to sign a production pact with a major studio.” During this deal, she worked as an executive producer for Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.

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