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LGBTQ+ icons are going to dominate your television screens this fall

Annette Bening in Nyad; Coleman Domingo in Rustin; Bradley Cooper in Maestro
Annette Bening in Nyad; Coleman Domingo in Rustin; Bradley Cooper in Maestro. Photo: Liz Parkinson/Netflix; Jason McDonald/Netflix; Parrish Lewis/Netflix

It’s shaping up to be an exciting fall for LGBTQ+ content. Leading the pack of queer films set to be released next month are Bottoms, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, My Animal, Rotting in the Sun, and Drive-Away Dolls, with Saltburn and All Of Us Strangers arriving in November. There’s also Fellow Travelers, Showtime’s new series based on out author Thomas Mallon’s novel, premiering in October.  

Amongst all the diverse LGBTQ+ stories coming our way in the next few months are four biopics spotlighting some very different real-life queer icons. Ahead of their release dates, we’re taking a look at the trailblazers at the center of these highly anticipated new films.

Saúl Armendáriz: Cassandro

Bad Bunny and Looking alum Raúl Castillo star alongside Gael García Bernal in this biopic of out wrestler Saúl Armendáriz, a.k.a. Cassandro, who upended the world of lucha libre by competing as an unapologetically queer exótico.

Prior to Armendáriz’s rise to fame, exóticosluchadors who compete in campy drag—were objects of ridicule, and almost none of them were openly gay. As Armendáriz recalled in a 2016 episode of The New Yorker Presents, he initially resisted wrestling as an exótico. He was closeted at the time and competed as a hyper-masc villain character.

Later, at the urging of out exótico Baby Sharon, he embraced his sexuality, taking on the flamboyantly glam, openly gay persona of Cassandro. Armendáriz went on to international fame, winning matches—previously unheard of for exóticos—becoming the most well-known exótico in the world. The new film depicts how Armendáriz (Bernal) rose to fame, but also the turmoil his coming out unleashed in his personal life. The wrestler is also the subject of a 2014 profile in The New Yorker, as well as a 2018 documentary, Cassandro, The Exotico!, streaming for free on Tubi and Pluto. Cassandro arrives in theaters September 15 before debuting on Prime Video September 22.

Diana Nyad: Nyad

Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in Nyad
Liz Parkinson/Netflix Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in Nyad.

In 2013, 63-year-old out journalist and long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Nyad stars four-time Academy Award nominee and staunch LGBTQ+ ally Annette Bening as the titular athlete, with fellow Oscar-winner Jodie Foster co-starring as Nyad’s friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll.

Based on her 2015 memoir Find a Way, the film depicts Nyad’s four-year journey to achieving her goal of swimming the 110-mile trek. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Nyad told Out Magazine in 2012 that anger over what happened to her fueled her drive. She set multiple distance swimming records in the 1970s and made her first attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West in 1978 before retiring from competitive swimming in 1979.

Remarkably, she began training again in 2010, at the age of 60, aiming to make the Cuba-to-Florida swim without a shark cage. After three attempts between 2011 and 2012, she finally succeeded in 2013. Her life and the journey leading up to her 2013 swim are also documented in the 2013 film The Other Shore. Nyad is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12. It arrives in select theaters October 20 and will stream on Netflix beginning November 3.

Bayard Rustin: Rustin

Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin in George C. Wolfe's biopic Rustin.
Parrish Lewis/Netflix Colman Domingo (center) as Bayard Rustin in George C. Wolfe’s biopic Rustin.

During a recent Q&A at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, out director George C. Wolfe lamented the fact that Bayard Rustin’s legacy in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s has been largely forgotten. “This was a man whose ferocity and sense of justice and correctness…seemed to be embedded in every fiber of his being,” Wolfe said. “History… it forgot him. It in point of fact erased him.”

With his new film, Rustin, Wolfe aims to correct that injustice. The film stars out Emmy winner Coleman Domingo as Rustin, a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech before a crowd of around 250,000 people.

As Ron Johnson wrote in his 2018 remembrance of Rustin for LGBTQ Nation, the out activist met and began working with King in the 1950s, and continued fighting for civil rights and gay rights throughout his life. But other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement took issue with his identity as a gay man, particularly a 1953 “sex perversion” conviction (California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) awarded Rustin a posthumous pardon in 2020). In recent years, however, there have been efforts to resurrect Rustin’s legacy. In 2013, President Barack Obama — whose Higher Ground Productions is a producer on Wolfe’s biopic — awarded Rustin a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rustin premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13. It’s set to open in select theaters November 3 before streaming on Netflix November 17.

Leonard Bernstein: Maestro

According to the film’s official logline, director Bradley Cooper’s Maestro chronicles “the lifelong relationship between Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre.” But photos that appeared online earlier this year of Cooper kissing co-star Matt Bomer on set suggest the biopic won’t shy away from Bernstein’s queerness.

During his lifetime, Bernstein won seven Emmys, two Tonys, and 16 Grammys, and he is widely considered one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. He also carried on plenty of affairs with other men, as revealed in multiple biographies and Nigel Simeone’s 2013 collection of Bernstein’s correspondence, The Leonard Bernstein Letters. Maestro premieres September 2 at the Venice International Film Festival before arriving in select theaters on November 22. It begins streaming December 20 on Netflix.

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