LGBTQ+ Filmmakers and Artists on the Rise in 202

By Francisco Rivas

Twenty twenty-three is shaping up to be a Very Queer Year. Sundance was very gay, between the new Ira Sachs film, and a documentary about the Indigo Girls, and Anne Hathaway in a lesbian drama. The talk of Cannes was Pedro Almodóvar’s queer Western, Strange Way of Life, starring Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke. Summer movie season is shaping up to be very fruity, with R-rated comedies like Bottoms and Joy Ride, romantic comedies like Red, White & Royal Blue, and even an animated movie too, in Netflix’s Nimona. And don’t get us started on Barbie.

Movies by, about and for the community don’t happen on their own — queerness on-screen is still hard-won — and so we have LGBTQ+ writers, directors, producers, and stars, many of whom wear multiple hats by necessity, to thank for contributing to and continuing to shape the state of queer cinema.

Ben Aldridge / actor

Until recently, Ben Aldridge might have been best known as “Arsehole Guy” from Fleabag. Although the English actor has been working for more than a decade, his breakthrough arrived with the back-to-back releases of Spoiler Alert and Knock at the Cabin. In the former, an adaption of Michael Ausiello’s memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, Aldridge plays the love interest, Kit, who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the latter, a horror flick from M. Night Shyamalan, he and Jonathan Groff play husbands terrorized by religious zealots. Both roles came to Aldridge shortly after coming out as gay in 2020. “The journey to pride was a long one for me,” he said at the time. “I love the LGBTQ+ community and am incredibly proud and thankful to be a part of it.”

Lily Gladstone / actor

Queer cinephiles — and fans of independent cinema in general — know Lily Gladstone as the lovelorn rancher smitten by Kristen Stewart’s character in 2016’s Certain Woman. This year has given the actor, who is of Blackfeet and Nimíipuu heritage and uses she/they pronouns, plenty more opportunities to be recognized: In Fancy Dance, the Sundance standout from queer Indigenous filmmaker Erica Tremblay, Gladstone plays a Native American woman who kidnaps her niece from her white grandparents; and in Killers of the Flower Moon, the latest drama from Martin Scorsese, they star alongside Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, playing Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman at the center of the film. When the film debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Gladstone, especially, earned rave reviews.

Oliver Hermanus / director, writer

South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus won the Queer Palme for 2011’s Cannes-premiering Beauty, while 2019’s Moffie, about a young man hiding his sexuality while serving in the South African military, further proclaimed him as a queer auteur to watch. Then came Living, his remake of the Akira Kurosawa 1952 classic Ikiru, which earned Oscar nominations for star Bill Nighy (Best Actor in a Leading Role) and for Kazuo Ishiguro’s adapted screenplay. “All my films are portraits of individuals in particular situations, whether facing internal crises or grand themes like mortality,” Hermanus tells A.frame. “I take interest in making films that allow the audience to step into someone else’s shoes and journey with them, prompting questions about what it means to be a human being.” His next film will be the queer romance The History of Sound, starring Josh O’Connor and Paul Mescal.

D. Smith / director, editor, cinematographer, producer

A Grammy Award-winning music producer and one-time reality TV star, D. Smith makes her directorial debut with Kokomo City, an unflinching look at the lives of four trans women — Daniella Carter, Liyah Mitchell, Dominique Silver and the late Koko Da Doll — as they navigate their identities as Black women, as trans women, and as sex workers. Smith didn’t just direct the documentary; she produced it, shot it herself, and edited it. (Lena Waithe executive produced.) At Sundance, Kokomo City won both the NEXT Innovator Award and NEXT Audience Award. “In real life, trans women are funny. And we’re sad, and we’re sexy, and we have body parts that are our body parts. It’s time to embrace that,” Smith said upon winning. “Enough with the fortresses that are built around us, keeping us from fully joining society.”

Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu and Ashley Park.

The Cast of ‘Joy Ride’ / actors

Stephanie Hsu (who landed on our Pride Guide last year) certainly was on the rise — towards her first Oscar nomination (Best Actress in a Supporting Role), for her performance in Best Picture winner Everything Everywhere All at Once. She returns to the big screen in a film that is likewise Asian-led, Asian-made, and the must-see movie of the summer: Joy Ride, an R-rated comedy about four friends causing chaos during a trip to China. Alongside Hsu, Joy Ride introduces nonbinary stand-up comic Sabrina Wu, in their film debut, and bisexual actress and comedian Sherry Cola (who also stars in Randall Park’s directorial debut, Shortcomings). Ashley Park, a Grammy and Tony Award nominee and beloved ally, rounds out the quartet.

Matthew López / director, writer

Matthew López began his career Off-Broadway, before The Inheritance — a reimagining of Howards End set amidst the AIDS crisis — took him to the West End and then Broadway. In 2020, he became the first Latine playwright to win the Tony Award for Best Play. (He received another Tony nomination for his musical adaptation of Some Like It Hot.) López makes his film debut directing Red, White & Royal Blue, a rom-com about an affair between the president’s son and a British prince. “I never imagined I’d read a book with a queer Latine character at the center,” he told Glamour of Casey McQuiston’s novel, which he adapted. “I think having this book in my life when I was younger might have made it a little easier.”

Trace Lysette / actor, producer

Being cast in Transparent forever changed Trace Lysette’s life. The groundbreaking series provided the actress with her breakthrough role, sure — which led to parts in movies like Hustlers and Venus as a Boy (not to mention a Cher music video) — but it was also her public coming out party. Just short of a decade later, she made history as the first trans actress to lead a movie in competition at the Venice Film Festival. Just as remarkable is her performance in Monica, a new sort of breakthrough announcing the arrival of a true leading lady. “I am open to whatever,” Lysette tells A.frame of what comes next. “I welcome all of it! That’s the most beautiful thing about being an actor, is that no two jobs are really the same, and you just get to keep evolving.”

Hari Nef / actor

The B in LGBTQ+ could stand for Barbie this summer, as the Greta Gerwig fantasy comedy is shaping up to be one of the gayest movies of the year. The cast of Barbies and Kens includes Kate McKinnon and Alexandra Shipp, Scott Evans and Ncuti Gatwa, and Hari Nef — the latter of whom is experiencing quite the moment. The history-making trans model-turned-in-demand-actress plays Doctor Barbie. “I had big feelings about wanting to join this film,” she shared on social media. “Identity politics and cinema aren’t my favorite combination, but the name BARBIE looms large over every American woman. Barbie’s the standard; she’s The Girl; she’s certainly THE doll.” In addition to Barbie, Nef stars in Bad Things, director Stewart Thorndike’s queer twist on The Shining, and will next portray Candy Darling in a biopic about the trans icon and Andy Warhol muse.

Emma Seligman / director, writer, producer

Writer and director Emma Seligman is bisexual, Jewish and gets it: All of which was made clear in their film debut, Shiva Baby, about a college student (the iconic Rachel Sennott) trapped at a funeral with her sugar daddy and ex-girlfriend. On that film, Seligman previously told A.frame, they focused on “getting over imposter syndrome, putting on your director pants, and being like, ‘I’ve got this’ — and not letting my Canadian-ness or my womanhood tell me I’m not good enough.” Their follow-up, Bottoms, which they wrote with Sennott, is even more audacious: Sennott and Ayo Edebiri (herself a queer rising star) play high schoolers who start a fight club in order to hook up with cheerleaders.

Roger Ross Williams / director, writer, producer.

In 2010, Roger Ross Williams made history as the first Black director to win an Oscar, for his short documentary Music by Prudence. Over the ensuing decade, the New York-based filmmaker has helmed feature-length documentaries, including 2016’s Oscar-nominated Life, Animated, 2019’s The Apollo, and this year’s Love to Love You, Donna Summer. At age 60, Williams is making his narrative film debut with Cassandro, which tells the true story of Saúl Armendáriz (played by Gael García Bernal), a gay wrestler who achieves international stardom as the Liberace of Lucha Libre. “My own life experience as a gay, Black man has made me realize the importance of telling stories we don’t usually hear,” Williams says of the movie, which he also co-wrote. Cassandro premiered during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and will be released this fall.

Thanks to for their contribution.