New Queer Cinema is an underground film movement of the early 1990s, with its beginnings in the cinematic vitality of New York City’s East Village.

It was a time when gay and lesbian independent film-making was coming into its own as an artistic, economic, and political force.

The movement was defined by a group of young filmmakers that included Gregg Araki, John Waters, and Todd Haynes.

In their films, the movement pushed back against Hollywood stereotypes by creating realistic images of gay and lesbian life that were raw, unapologetic, and true to form.

New Queer Cinema

What Is New Queer Cinema?

A cinematic movement that began in the 1990s and is characterized by its departure from the traditional standards of LGBT cinema.

The primary focus of New Queer Cinema is to provide a space for LGBT characters to exist in film, but it is also an outlet for expression and subversion of heteronormative understandings of gender and sexuality.

This movement also gives filmmakers an opportunity to experiment with new narrative forms, themes, and styles.

New Queer Cinema (new queer cinema) is a term first coined by the academic B. Ruby Rich in Sight & Sound magazine in 1992 to define and describe a movement in queer-themed independent filmmaking in the early 1990s.

Traditionally, the film genres of “queer cinema” were separated from the more mainstream “gay cinema,” which usually consisted of conventional melodramas focused on white, middle-class gay men.

A defining feature of New Queer Cinema was its rejection of victim narratives centering on white, middle-class gay men.



What Is New Queer Cinema?

New Queer Cinema’s films are often subversive commentaries on established norms and standards of behavior.

They emphasize realism over idealism, reveling in the freedom to push against traditional sexual attitudes without fear of censorship or reprisal.

The rebellious nature of New York City played a significant role in shaping the movement’s countercultural aesthetics and politics.

Films such as Go Fish, Poison, The Living End, Tongues Untied, and Swoon employed a gritty aesthetic to capture the experience of disenfranchisement within American society for gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities.

Since its first appearance in the early 90s, New Queer Cinema has taken on a life of its own, evolving from an affirmative label into a negative one.

The term labels individual films as queer and therefore, by definition, progressive.

But what are the implications of such a label? What happens when we read these films as falling outside of dominant discourses of cinematic realism and classic narrative structure?

What if we were to consider new queer cinema not as objects to be interpreted externally but rather as texts to be interpreted internally?


These are the questions that we try to answer in this guide.

Beginner’s Guide To New Queer Cinema

The movement presented a new wave of filmmakers who were interested in exploring issues such as race, class, and gender identity within LGBTQ+ culture.

Works by filmmakers such as Cheryl Dunye, Isaac Julien, and Derek Jarman were produced independently with low budgets and released to critical acclaim.

A new wave of gay cinema is currently in full swing, and with the success of films like Call Me By Your Name, Moonlight, and Love, Simon, the time is ripe for fleshing out the canon. 

While many have called this a sort of “third wave” of LGBTQ film-making, there’s no concrete definition to define it; it’s just a generalization based on current trends.

In some ways, this New Queer Cinema is reminiscent of the kind that sprang up in the 80s. 

In particular, there are similarities in the way queer cinema is being distributed; VOD platforms are playing a massive part in how these films are reaching an audience.

However, there’s one key difference between 80s queer cinema and what is being made now: today, not every filmmaker making queer cinema identifies as LGBTQ. 

This is certainly true of some big-name directors working today — Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Dee Rees (Mudbound), and Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) all identity as straight — but so far this hasn’t been a barrier to making work that speaks to LGBTQ audiences.

It’s hard to say whether queer cinema will continue to flourish for years to come. To help you navigate through New Queer Cinema, here is a beginner’s guide to get you started on your journey towards becoming a true cinephile.

Development Of The New Queer Cinema Movement

The New Queer Cinema movement emerged in the early 1990s, shortly after the start of the AIDS pandemic. 

It was the first time since the coming out of gay and lesbian filmmakers in the 1970s that a distinct genre had emerged.

The movement developed independently in North America and Europe, with the European films being produced primarily in France and Italy. 

The movement’s name is derived from the work of film theorist Bérénice Reynaud, who used the term “Queer Cinema” to describe this emerging body of work.

There is some disagreement among film scholars and queer theorists about whether a coherent movement exists at all. While some critics, such as B. Ruby Rich, speak of it as a distinct genre or wave, others like Thomas Waugh view it as a collection of individual works united by common themes. 

Critics who believe this even go on to imply that the title is simply a marketing label created by distributors attempting to market these films to niche markets. 

Perhaps because of its recent resurgence and lack of any clear unifying characteristics, there is no consensus on when exactly New Queer Cinema started or finished.

However, some believe the original genre has indeed ended. In 1996 critic Cintra Wilson declared “the death of New Queer Cinema”. Writing for Film Comment she said: “New Queer Cinema died with Derek Jarman”.

What Exactly Is Queer Cinema

What Exactly Is Queer Cinema? When I was in college, the phrase “queer cinema” wasn’t a thing. You could say that there was gay cinema, maybe lesbian cinema, but definitely not transgender cinema or bisexual cinema.

But the queer label? No way. 

And if you wanted to see something specific like closeted gay cops or trans characters whose transitions were depicted with nuance, you were out of luck. So what makes queer cinema different now? And why is it important? The first and most obvious answer is that it represents a growing awareness of LGBTQIA+ people in film.

The first time I saw two women kiss on screen was when I watched my mother’s VHS tape of The Color Purple. In the movie theater, it would have been too shocking for me to handle.

But on video, I could watch it over and over again. That same year I saw Parting Glances, which included a relationship between two men played by Steve Buscemi and Richard Ganoung.

I remember being excited about those movies, but at the same time, I felt frustrated because they were so rare and usually kept from the mainstream.

On The Birth Of New Queer Cinema

The birth of New Queer Cinema in the early 1990s can be traced back to the release of Todd Haynes’ Poison (1991). It was a key film for new queer directors like Gregg Araki and Gus Van Sant, and also marked a turning point in the career of Haynes, who until then had made only mainstream movies.

In the same year, Haynes’ film was followed by three other significant queer releases: Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Tom Kalin’s Swoon, and Rose Troche’s Go Fish

Though they shared little outside of their sexual orientation and independent spirit, these films were united by their status as outsider artworks that offered trenchant critiques of American society at large.

They have since become classics of queer cinema, though some filmmakers would claim that the label is misplaced. New Queer Cinema’s emergence coincided with the rise of identity politics in America, particularly around issues relating to race and gender.

The new queer cinema movement was driven by its own identity politics – not only around sexuality but also race. Unlike previous generations of gay artists who had taken advantage of mainstream Hollywood’s tendency to tolerate them as long as they did not stray too far from the norm, New Queer Cinema sought to make radical political statements.

History Of New Queer Cinema

The term “New Queer Cinema” (or NQC) was first coined in 1992 by film critic B.Ruby Rich to describe a new generation of queer-themed movies and filmmakers who were making films outside of the control of the Hollywood studio system.

In her essay “New Queer Cinema,” Rich wrote, “As far as I can tell, New Queer Cinema is largely a marketing phenomenon at this point.”

She went on to ask, “What does it mean to call these films ‘new queer’? Are they really all that different from the old ones? And if not, what’s so queer about them?”

According to Rich, the term “New Queer Cinema” should be replaced with a more accurate one; however, due to its convenience and popularity with audiences, the term has stuck and it continues to be used today. The term has also been used by critics such as Dennis Lim and B. Ruby Rich to describe a surge in gay film production during the early 2000s.

Essential Filmmakers Of New Queer Cinema

The New Queer Cinema movement is an artistic response to what many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people saw as a lack of media representation of their own lives and experiences.

Taken as a whole, the films of New Queer Cinema can be seen as a response to both the AIDS crisis and the mainstreaming of the LGBT community in America during the 1990s. Many of these films were produced on low budgets, with non-professional actors, but they are also very influential. 

John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch won four major awards at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, for instance.

Essential Films Of New Queer Cinema

The films of New Queer Cinema are distinguished by their focus on non-heteronormative characters or those who openly flout conventional definitions of sexuality and/or gender.

During the New Queer Cinema movement’s heyday, it was a controversial new force in American independent cinema, but it has since blended in with the mainstream to be largely replaced by other movements such as the “mumblecore” style of filmmaking.

Many of its themes have been assimilated into popular culture through television shows like The L Word and Orange Is The New Black. It is also viewed as a part of a larger trend towards greater LGBT acceptance in wider American culture.

This video list includes fifty essential works of New Queer Cinema. Each film was made within the movement’s time period (roughly 1992 to 2001) and is an excellent example of the movement’s style or subject matter.

This list does not aim to be comprehensive: some important figures from the movement, including Todd Haynes and Gregg Araki, are not represented.

Importance Of New Queer Cinema

The recent release of a new film, Stonewall, has sparked an ongoing debate about the representation of trans women in media. 

While many are applauding Roland Emmerich’s movie, some trans women have been upset by the portrayal of a fictional character played by cisgender actor, Jonny Beauchamp.

The uproar again brings to light the issues of trans representation in media and how it is handled. In particular, the film’s casting calls for “cis-gendered” actors to play trans women and the language used to describe them in their casting descriptions.

In this case, it seems that Mr. Beauchamp was cast as a trans woman despite being cisgender. This may not be a new phenomenon in Hollywood, but it is a problem that still persists today.

Although we have made great strides in LGBT rights over the past decades, transgender issues are still very much misunderstood by mainstream audiences (and those behind the camera).

A recent article from The New York Times discusses how there are even fewer roles for transgender actors than there are for transgender characters and how these roles can often be played by cisgender actors or people who identify as gender-queer: “It’s safer to cast a non-trans person,”

New Queer Cinema Theory

Queer Theory is the study of the ways that queer people have been represented in art, how the experience of being queer has been depicted in art, and how people outside of the so-called normal spectrum have used art as a means to understand their own sexualities. 

The 1980s and 90s saw the rise of a new generation of openly gay filmmakers who brought with them a fresh new take on what it meant to be gay in America.

The films they produced were not only entertaining but also reflected a new kind of dialogue with audiences. 

The goal was no longer to depict homosexuals as formulaic characters who were “sick” or “dysfunctional” but rather to show them as real people with real problems and complicated lives.

This was the birth of Queer Cinema. Queer Theory explores many aspects of sexuality and gender identity through cinema.

It looks at how heterosexuality has been depicted in film, how homosexuality and transgenderism have been depicted, and why these depictions are important to society. 

Some examples of Queer Cinema include Bound (1996), Paris Is Burning (1990), The Crying Game (1992), Boys Don’t Cry (1999), and many others.

The End Of New Queer Cinema

Although this is subject to some debate, some believe that New Queer Cinema ended in the early 2000s. This is not meant to sound like a eulogy, but rather a statement of fact that queer film is moving on from its previous incarnation.

This article was not meant to be a comprehensive analysis of the rise and fall of queer cinema, but rather one possible explanation for how we got here.

What exactly is New Queer Cinema? 

Well, we’re still trying to figure that out.

In fact, it’s what we’re all doing right now. As I wrote this article, I realized that New Queer Cinema has already happened and I’m just behind on the times.

New Queer Cinema has been around for years now; it’s just that I’m only just starting to notice it. So maybe this isn’t so much about what the new queer cinema is, but rather how it came about.

New Queer Cinema – Wrapping Up

Do you have any criticism for the films of New Queer Cinema? I have a lot of criticism for the films, but it’s not so much about the films themselves as what they represent. 

I’d say that the films of New Queer Cinema were incredibly important and still are.

However, I think that we’re no longer in an era where we can look to cinema to be revolutionary.

Film has lost its position of importance and centrality in our lives and in our culture, and it’s become something that we watch when we want to.

That is why I made my last film because I wanted to get back at film by making something really unpleasant and difficult to watch. But this is a minor point, and I will try to answer your question directly.

The criticism I have for the films is that they’re too nice — almost saccharine in their niceness. Also, there is a problem with the way filmmakers understand their audience.

They make films for other filmmakers or people who go to art-house theaters. 

It would be more interesting if they made films for people who don’t know anything about film theory or have any familiarity with these kinds of movies. 

In this way, these ideas would actually have a chance at being realized in the mainstream rather than just talked about within film circles.