Pride in Film: 3 LGBTQ+ Trailblazing Filmmakers

Pride in Film: 3 LGBTQ+ Trailblazing Filmmakers

As Pride Month 2023 (1st June – 30th June) draws to a close, we’ve spotlighted 3 key figures, amongst an increasing number, making their mark within the film industry while representing their LGBTQ+ communities. The continuing effort for advancing equality and inclusion is celebrated throughout Pride Month across many key industries. but when it comes the creative, and specifically the film industries, the point on visibility is arguably most acutely made. Filmmakers use their medium to narrate stories and experiences – documenting and therefore hopefully educating both audiences and their fellow industry colleagues about both the triumphs and remaning challenges of the gay and queer communities.


Over the past few years, an increasing amount of attention has been given to documenting the rise of LGBTQ+ individuals’ rise to recognition, and this is not limited to the silver-screen. Streaming platforms, notably Netflix, have become another prime channel for featuring these productions, for both film and series. As more and more names and faces become familiar to us, here are 3 established and accelerating figures in film achieving advancement and recognition in their own right, and for their wider community.

Dee Rees

Academy-Award-nominated Rees is a Black, lesbian director and writer, whose work includes ‘Pariah’ (2011) and the highly-acclaimed ‘Mudbound’ (2017) which owed to Rees becoming the first Black woman to receive a nomination for the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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A semi-autobiographical account, ‘Pariah’ was first made as a short-film for Rees’ final graduate programme thesis during her Masters at New York University. It was accepted to Sundance labs, evolving into a full independent feature film of the same name, later in 2012 to become the recipient of the NAACP Image Aware. The film documents a black teenage girl, Alike, as she comes to terms with her lesbian indentity, a sensitive, highly emotive journey composed via a beautiful, tender lighting scheme which received significant acclaim, as did the intensely realistic dialogue.

‘Mudbound”s star-studded cast (Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blidge, streaming on Netflix) tells of two men returning to a rural Mississippi farm from the battlefields of World War II, faced with racism and with their own internal adjustments to life after war.

Went out to fight for my country to come back and find it hadn’t changed a bit.” – ‘Mudbound’, (2017) 

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Another unapologetic depiction of the prejudices instilled in America, less than 100 years ago, ‘Mudbound’ won great acclaim and numerous award nominations. Other notable works by Rees are ‘Bessie’ (2015) starring Queen Latifah, and more recently the thriller, ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’ (2020).


Andrew Ahn

Ahn is a queer Korean filmmaker, director and screenwriter, born and raised in Los Angeles, USA. Ahn is recognised for his contribution to promoting diversity in the arts, and has mentored young filmmakers through various programmes including Pacific Arts Movement’s Reel Voices, Outfest’s OutSet, and the Sundance Institute’s Native Filmmaker Lab.

SANTA MONICA, CA – FEBRUARY 25: Filmmaker Andrew Ahn, winner of the John Cassavetes Award for ‘Spa Night,’ poses in the press room during the 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards at the Santa Monica Pier on February 25, 2017 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)

Ahn’s most recent release, the feature film ‘Fire Island’ (streaming on Hulu) has been awarded the Ensemble Tribute at the Gotham Awards in 2023. Deemed as something of a long-awaited ‘Pride and Prejudice’ re-telling, the film stars Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang. As Ahn describes: “I remember pitching the script to Searchlight and to Joel and our producers and I created a pitch deck that included photos of my friends group. And I said, ‘I want to make this for them,”* speaking of the often referred to ‘chosen family’ that many LGBTQ+ circles relate to each other as, following experiences of prejudice and judgement from their own backgrounds.

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This follow Ahn’s previous and first independent film ‘Spa Night’ (2016) which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in US Dramatic Competition, winning a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance. The film went on to win the 2017 John Cassavetes Film Independent Spirit Award. It’s a tale about a closeted Korean American teenager, who escapes to explore the underground gay sex scene at a Korean spa.

Levan Akin

Swedish writer and director Akin, who also has Georgian roots, launched his career with the critically acclaimed drama, And Then We Danced’, which premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. The film follows a gay Georgian dancer in a modern-day conservative Tbilisi, finding himself up against tough competition for the opportunity of a lifetime.

In all of his films, Akin aims for authenticity, especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ love stories. “I just wanted it to feel really, really authentic, and for those moments of first love to be so real,” […] “I’ve never seen those in a gay movie… I really wanted to catch those micro-moments, because I think a lot of gay people can identify with those situations.”


In an article published by TimeOut, Levan describes how he ‘still get[s] death threats’ following the release of ‘And Then We Danced’. As the film opened in cinemas in the Georgian capital Tbilisi in November 2019, homophobic mobs turned up in person to protest – rocks were thrown and police were guarding the screens throughout the three days of its showing. The film reflected a society that became realised itself. However, 6,000 cinema-goers did still manage to make it to the screenings, and Levan does not hesitate to mention the significant amount of positive response and support he has received in this trailblazing work:

‘Someone said: “I brought my grandma to the movie. She’s never seen a gay person and she was crying by the end.” We can reach those people.’

As Phil de Semlyen of TimeOut notes: ‘[T]hanks to that eventful cinema run, a warm Cannes reception and its growing international profile, ‘And Then We Danced’ has become the little film that could change minds. ‘


Akin’s next endeavour is ‘Passage’, a gay love story set in Turkey, to be released the coming year.