Manuel Betancourt

HBO’s LGBT History (1988-Present)

May 13, 2015 · in Film, Queer, TV


Over at The Film Experience, I am currently working my way through every film and miniseries produced and distributed by HBO that features prominent LGBT content.

1. The Beginning

What might we learn about tracing LGBT themes and characters in HBO’s film and TV productions?

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2. Tidy Endings (1988)

Harvey Fierstein adapts his own play of the same about a gay man who, having lost his partner to AIDS, has to clean up the apartment they shared together with his partner’s ex-wife (Stockard Channing).

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3. Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989)

Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s celebrated AIDS documentary tells the story of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. It is narrated by Dustin Hoffman.

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4. Citizen Cohn (1992)

James Woods plays Roy Cohn in this TV biopic about one of the most controversial figures in twentieth century American history, from his rise alongside McCarthy to his death from AIDS.

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5. And the Band Played On (1993)

Roger Spottiswoode adapts the groundbreaking study on the early years of the AIDS epidemic of the same name in this all-star cast-led film with luminous turns by Lily Tomlin and Ian McKellen.

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6. In the Gloaming (1997)

In this quiet adaptation of Alice Elliot Dark’s short story about a man returning home to his mother in his dying days, is worth watching for Glenn Close’s nuanced performance.

HBO LGBT In the Gloaming 03

7. Gia (1998)

Featuring one of Angelina Jolie’s greatest screen roles, this film is a biopic of the famed supermodel Gia Carangi whose struggles with addiction eventually led to her death in 1986, one of the first females to die of AIDS.


8. 1998: The Year in Tv

Tracking the year before The Sopranos made HBO a watercooler network, I look at four key episodes from Tracey Takes On…, Sex and the City, The Larry Sanders Show and Oz that feature prominent LGBT characters.

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9. If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000)

This anthology film (a sequel of sorts to the 1996 film about abortion) focuses on lesbian couples residing in the same house over the latter half of the twentieth century, featuring Vanessa Redgrave, Michelle Williams and Ellen DeGeneres among others.

HBO LGBT If These Walls Could Talk 2 1961

10. Stranger Inside (2001)

Cheryl Dunye’s female prison film follows Treasure (Yolonda Ross) heading to a maximum security prison hoping to meet the woman she believes is her mother.

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11. Six Feet Under, “A Private Life” (2001)

Rather than try to talk at length about the groundbreaking work Alan Ball and Michael C. Hall did with Six Feet Under, we look at a key season one episode where David Fisher comes out.

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12. The Laramie Project (2002)

Based on Moisés Kaufman’s documentary play of the same name, this film traces the aftermath of the 1998 Matthew Shepard murder in the small town of Laramie, Wyoming.

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13. Normal (2003)

Adapted by Jane Anderson from her own play, Looking for Normal, this film follows Roy, a factory worker in the Mid-West, as he decides to transition into a woman, much to the surprise of his wife of twenty-five years.

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14. Elephant (2003)

Gus Van Sant’s divisive Palme d’Or winner, a fictionalized account of the Columbine shootings, features an oblique treatment of homosexuality, especially during a shower scene between the shooters.

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15. Angels in America (2003)

Mike Nichols’s towering film adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play is just divine. It features Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson and the rest of the cast in career-defining performances, but more importantly, it features a gorgeous angel cautioning us to stop the virus of time…

Angels in America HMWYBS Manuel

16. HBO Dramas: The Wire, Carnivàle & The Sopranos 

HBO dramas ushered in the latest Golden Age in television. How did they treat LGBT characters? By focusing on Omar Little and detective Shakima Greggs (The Wire), Sofie (Carnivàle) and Vito (The Sopranos) I argue that HBO made great strides in depicting complex characters whose sexuality didn’t define them.

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17. HBO Comedies: Da Ali G Show, The Comeback & Entourage

While HBO dramas offered fully fleshed-out characters, their comedic counterparts fell into what we might call “gay minstrelsy.” And yet, Brüno (Da Ali G Show), Mickey (The Comeback) and Lloyd (Entourage) all force us to reexamine how stereotypes function when discussing minority representation, asking us to take them more seriously than we’re tempted to.

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18. All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise (2006)

Unexpectedly touching, Rosie O’Donnell’s documentary about the maiden voyage of her LGBT Family Cruise is a fascinating look at parenthood and the very concept of “family” within the LGBT community.

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19. Middle Sexes – Redefining He and She (2005)

A documentary on gender variance with different chapters (on transexuals and intersex individuals in the USA, Hijra in South-East Asia, Kathoey in Thailand), whose main takeaway is “You have to respect sexual diversity because it’s nature.”

Middle Sexes HBO LGBT 01

20. Bernard and Doris (2008)

Bob Balaban’s film about Doris Duke, “the richest girl in the world,” and her gay butler, is a fascinating deconstruction of the straight gal/gay guy pairing that so often defined LGBT media representation from Will & Grace onwards.

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21. Be Like Others (2008)

A look at this groundbreaking doc on trans individuals in Iran and the rise of the gender reassignment surgery industry in that country.


22. Curb Your Enthusiasm (1999-2011)

Larry David’s comedy tackled gay issues by featuring what David calls a “pre-gay kid” who loves Project Runway and the aesthetic appeal of the swastika in equal measure.


23. Sex and the City (2008, 2010)

The two big screen outings of Carrie Bradshaw & co. continue to get a (deservedly) bad rap, but one cannot deny the gay sensibility brought on by Michael Patrick King’s ogling camera.


24. Outrage (2009)

This 2009 documentary tackles the hypocrisy of various elected officials whose voting record is decidedly anti-gay even when they have openly been involved in (homo)sexual scandals.


25. Grey Gardens (2009)

Looking at the iconic Maysles’s documentary on Jackie O’s who lived in the eponymous dilapidated Long Island home, Grey Gardens tells the story of the mother and daughter duo who have become part of the endless gay filmic iconography.


26. Sex on TV

A look at the ways HBO television shows have tackled gay sex scenes through the years.


27. The Celluloid Closet (1995) & Vito (2011)

In this double feature, I looked at the impact of film historian and gay rights activist Vito Russo.

Vito:Celluloid Closet HBO LGBT Posters

28. Cinema Verite (2011)

A look at the fictionalized behind-the-scenes drama of the first ever reality TV show, PBS’s An American Family.


29. Big Love (2006-2011)

The HBO series was undeniably one of the queerest shows on television.


30. Mildred Pierce (2011)

Todd Haynes’s languid miniseries adaptation of this 1930s story is a perfect example of the director’s gay sensibility.


31. Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover remind us that heterosexual A-listers still dominate high-profile gay casting choices.


32. The Out List (2013)

A coffee table photography book made into a not entirely serviceable documentary celebrates visibility and LGBT politics.


33. Six by Sondheim (2013)

This probing portrait of the Broadway composer is a fascinating look into an aging gay artist looking back (and forward)


34. 1989 Oscar Flashback Best Documentary

A look back at the 1989 Oscar ceremony which awarded Common Threads its Best Documentary Feature Oscar.


35. In Treatment (2008-2010)

HBO’s therapy series was an actor’s showcase, especially for Dane DeHaan who played an aloof NYC gay teen.


36. The Normal Heart (2014)

Ryan Murphy adapts Larry Kramer’s anger-fueled AIDS drama reminding us how timely it remains.

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