As the end of the year approaches, we’re looking back at all the wonderful LGBTQ media that got us through the chaos of 2020. Despite theater closures, tour cancellations, and the changing landscape of the media industry, LGBTQ creators persevered and brought audiences an incredible variety of titles through streaming services and online media stores.
We’ve gathered a few of the OutSmart staff’s favorite books, TV shows, films, and albums that debuted this year and received critical acclaim. These are the stories and creators that brought us together in joy, laughter, and tears during a challenging year, so we hope you find a new title or two to enjoy.
Recommendations by Alex Rosa, Alys Garcia Carrera, Andrew Edmonson, Brandon Wolf, Jack Berger, Lourdes Zavaleta, and Zachary McKenzie.
This competition-based HBO Max reality series follows eight established Ball Houses as they tackle a new challenge each week and deliver show-stopping performances to become the Superior House of the week. Following strict Underground Ballroom rules─complete with an emcee, a group of judges, and a live audience─each episode is sure to get you dancing and cheering for your favorite House. Native Houstonian and rapper Megan Thee Stallion is featured as one of the four main judges, alongside stylist Law Roach, professional dancer Leiomy Maldonado, and actress Jameela Jamil.
Acclaimed openly gay producer Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix miniseries reinterprets the glamour of 1940s Hollywood. Tackling ever-relevant issues of sexism, racism, and homophobia, this story revisits the past to emphasize the importance of representation and diversity in the media.
A Hulu Originals spin-off of the 2018 hit film Love, Simon, this series ventures back to the fictional Creekwood High School as new student Victor Salazar embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Narrated through another round of email correspondence between Victor and Simon, the audience watches as Victor slowly comes to terms with his sexuality while dealing with the ups and downs of teenage life. With tons of heart and a cast full of well-rounded characters, this show is a great watch for audiences of all ages.
Other memorable staff picks: Netflix’s Ratched and The Haunting of Bly Manor, HBO Max’s We Are Who We Are and We’re Here, Season 2 of Pose, and the finale of Schitt’s Creek.
Shaped by the bold and diverse population of Houston, Bryan Washington’s novels feature a myriad of colorful characters whose lives intersect in unique and heartwarmingly human ways. Written with exceptional prose, Memorial delves into the life of gay Houstonian Benson, whose life is turned upside down when his boyfriend’s mother arrives unannounced while said boyfriend is in Japan caring for his ailing father. Benson’s trials and tribulations are equal parts endearing and charmingly awkward. If you’re searching for a sweet and relatable story about family, love, growth, and acceptance (with great LGBTQ representation!) then this must-read book is for you.
Poet and author Danez Smith’s third book, Homie, compiles their poignant and often emotional poems into a beautiful narrative that any poetry fan will adore. Smith, a nonbinary writer and performer living with HIV, takes their personal life and experiences, including the death of a close friend, and turns them into what them. magazine hailed as “a love letter to Black queer friendship”—something so timely and needed in 2020 and beyond.
The Deviant’s War
Detailing the incredible story of astronomer Frank Kameny’s journey from persecution to activism, The Deviant’s War offers a look at the pre-Stonewall LGBTQ landscape. The book follows Kameny and other government employees believed to be homosexuals, many of whom were arrested and questioned by the Pentagon despite having done nothing wrong. With engaging prose, biographer Eric Cervini documents Kameny’s fight to remove the legal classification of “homosexuality” as “sexual deviance.” His incredible historical details inspire and incite reflection on the long journey to LGBTQ equal rights that we’re still engaged in.
Other memorable staff picks: Begin Again by Eddie Glaude, Infinity Son by Adam Silvera, Loveless by Alice Oseman, and Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Charlie Adhara.
The Half of It
Lesbian filmmaker Alice Wu’s newest work is the lesbian teen drama we all wish had been made years ago. But as they say, better late than never! This movie is a retelling of the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, and the story follows a shy high schooler named Ellie as she aids a male classmate in wooing a girl that she also harbors feelings for. The Half of It expertly avoids tired teen-film tropes and instead presents a story that’s endearingly honest about the struggles of immigrant families, queer crushes, and what it means to make long-lasting friendships.
This groundbreaking Netflix Originals documentary features outstanding public figures in the trans community as they recount the history and impact of transgender characters in film and television. This film not only highlights the trailblazing icons who made it to the big screen (when such a feat was considered next-to-impossible), but also notes the importance of positive portrayals of the trans community in the media. The documentary discusses the obstacles we must still overcome to achieve greater representation. Inspiring, heartwarming, and masterfully made, Disclosure is surely one of the best LGBTQ documentaries ever created.
Another Ryan Murphy and Netflix collaboration, this Broadway-hit adaptation features a star-studded cast with the likes of Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, and a heartwarming story at its core. Veteran musical film actors play washed-up Broadway stars who try to garner enough goodwill to return to the spotlight by inserting themselves in a struggle between a young lesbian high schooler and her school’s PTA over whether or not she can bring her girlfriend to the prom. With catchy showtunes, Murphy’s iconic cinematography, and a few touching moments, this family-friendly flick is a breath of fresh air after a bleak and musical-starved year.
The Happiest Season
This Hulu Originals film, written and directed by lesbian icon Clea Duvall (and starring out actress Kristen Stewart), has been highly anticipated since it was announced. The Happiest Season follows young lesbian couple Abby (Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) as they travel to spend the holidays with Harper’s conservative and wealthy family, where Abby plans to propose. But upon their arrival, Abby finds out that Harper has yet to come out to her family. The film will make you laugh, cry, and smile with its quintessential rom-com happy ending—all the components of a queer classic in the making.
Other memorable staff picks: Pixar’s short film Out, Netflix’s A Secret Love, Mucho Mucho Amor, The Boys in the Band, Lifetime’s The Christmas Setup, Amazon Originals’ Uncle Frank, and Warner Brothers’ Birds of Prey.
After taking on new sounds and styles, Oscar-winning pop icon Lady Gaga returned to her roots and gave the queer world at least one reason to dance in 2020. Featuring amazing collaborations with Ariana Grande, BLACKPINK, and Elton John, Chromatica is the best of Gaga’s techno-pop beats. The album includes a new brand of retro-pop sounds that showcase her growth as an artist and LGBTQ icon.
Rina Sawayama, an openly bisexual Japanese British singer-songwriter, released this much-anticipated debut studio album in 2020, which did not disappoint fans of her previous EP, Rina. The genre-defying Sawayama features songs ranging from rock to techno-pop, metal, and R&B, all heightened by her breathy and unique vocals. Chill, yet upbeat, Sawayama’s album is sure to please any kind of listener.
Trixie Mattel’s third album features a new sound for the traditional folk singer, and a collaboration with singer Lavender Country, whose musical career as an openly gay performer in the early ’70s paved the way for today’s queer artists. Ironically named after the Barbie doll character that Trixie fashions herself after, the album introduces rock-pop sounds along with the folk and bluegrass tunes that Trixie is famous for. Funny, catchy, and now historically meaningful, this album by Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3 winner (and self-proclaimed “skinny legend”) is a great listen for anyone looking to feel those summer vibes any time of the year.
Other memorable Staff Picks: If We Make it Through December by Phoebe Bridges, Show Pony by Orville Peck, Less is Moor by Zebra Katz, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately by Perfume Genius, and In a Dream by Troye Sivan.