Pride is a celebration of queer visibility, equality, and achievement. Yet queer film and queer music are defined not only by the gender identity of the artists or the characters. Queer can also be a sensibility, a subtext perceptible only to those of us whose “gaydar” is already tuned to that frequency. But in the extroverted spirit of Pride, here are six examples of films with very visible queer characters in which the music plays a crucial role.
Academy member Michael Abels is a concert and film composer (Get Out, Us) and co-founder of the Composers Diversity Collective, an organization dedicated to increasing visibility and providing mentorship to composers from diverse backgrounds in the industry. His latest film, Bad Education, starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, is based on the true story of the largest public school embezzlement scandal in history.
Ang Lee’s now-classic romance starring A-list Hollywood actors. The Oscar-winning score by Gustavo Santaolalla perfectly captures the beauty of the mountain locations, the longing felt by the lead characters, and the profound isolation that links both.
Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture-winning film about a young gay Black man’s search for his identity within his community. Nicholas Britell’s sensitive, hip-hop-influenced score captures a sense of innocence lost, of vulnerability trapped in a shell of necessity.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Céline Sciamma’s passionate, intimate story of an affair between a painter and her portrait subject features only one original music cue, a galvanizing, one-of-a-kind piece for womens’ voices by Para One and Arthur Simonini, performed on-screen by cast members around a bonfire.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
The first film I saw that portrays drag performers and a transgender character as heroes, as family. The soundtrack is a primer on camp classics and gay anthems, including a lip-sync performance of “I Will Survive” that manages to joyfully include aboriginal instruments.
Todd Haynes’ visionary take on glam rock, inspired by iconic musicians of the '70s who were gender fluid long before that was fully recognized as a thing. With a soundtrack of art rock standards, on-screen covers, and a score by Carter Burwell, whose ongoing collaboration with Haynes continues to bring queer stories and sensibility to the screen.
All About My Mother
Almodóvar’s films often center on queer stories and include transgender characters. Multi-Oscar nominee Alberto Iglesias has scored virtually all of them. All About My Mother is my favorite of his scores: noir, mysterious, eclectic, and deeply empathic.