20 LGBTQ+ directors changing the film industry

Hedwig and the Angry Inch sequel, John Cameron Mitchell
Photo: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

LGBTQ+ directors are often boundary pushers. Some, like John Waters, push the bounds of good taste. Others, like Vera Drew, have pushed what can be legally done in a movie.

Even when LGBTQ+ directors just want to tell their stories without blowing minds, bringing queer stories to screens is in its own way revolutionary. Especially in the past, when censorious laws restricted LGBTQ+ characters to merely being depicted as queer-coded villains. Here are 20 of our favorite LGBTQ+ directors who are projecting their big ideas onto the silver screen.

1. John Waters

John Waters speaks during the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Jan. 31, 2024.
John Waters in 2024 Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY NETWORK via IMAGN
John Waters is perhaps the quintessential LGBTQ+ director, all while being the so-called “Pope of Trash.” The normies may love Hairspray — and rightly so — but his transgressive early work like Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble made amazing strides on what could be shown on screens… if not necessarily what should be shown on screens.

2. Vera Drew

lgbtq+ directors vera drew people's joker
Vera Drew in “The People’s Joker” Screenshot
Vera Drew cut her teeth working with comedians Tim and Eric, and her film The People’s Joker is littered with alt-comedy legends like Bob Odenkirk. But her film also struck a blow for parody law. Its premiere was nearly blocked when Warner Brothers threatened Drew with a cease and desist order. The studio eventually relented because her film was protected by fair use laws.

3. Leo Herrera

fathers lgbtq+ directors leo herrera
A still from the webseries FATHERS. Mark S. King
Leo Herrera isn’t afraid to court controversy. One of his works, FATHERS, looks at a world that never had the AIDS crisis. In this world, The Celluloid Closet author Vito Russo didn’t die. Instead, he became the president of the United States.

4. Marlon Riggs

Still from Tongues Untied lgbtq+ directors
Still from Tongues Untied Institute of Contemporary Arts
Marlon Riggs only made films for 13 years before he died of AIDS-related complications in 1994 at 37. But the films he made were incredibly important and influential, from the Emmy-award winning Ethnic Notions to the posthumously completed Black Is… Black Ain’t. Riggs also founded Signifyin’ Works, a non-profit producer of films about Black history and culture. In 1991, he received the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

5. Gregg Araki

Gregg Araki was one of the shining lights of the New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s. His visual style is striking and bold, be it the checkerboard motif of his “heterosexual movie” The Doom Generation, or the wild content of Nowhere. His most recent film is 2014’s White Bird in a Blizzard, and he’s done a number of television episodes, including for Riverdale and American Gigolo.

6. Saul Williams

Saul Williams is a true renaissance man. He makes outstanding music, he’s a poet, he’s an actor and a filmmaker. His most recent work is the mindblowing Neptune Frost, co-directed with Anisia Uzeyman, an afro-futurist film about a group of hackers in Rwanda who are able to spread their message to the world at large via techno-kineticism (meaning they can control tech with their minds).

7. Jane Schoenbrun

Jane Schoenbrun‘s breakthrough debut We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, was a quiet, sad story exploring a teen’s relationship with an online creepypasta and her friendship with an older man. Their new film, I Saw the TV Glowhas gotten amazing buzz. Like its predecessor, it’s about how teens interact with media, in this case, a show called The Pink Opaque. It’s rumored that their next project is an adaptation of the Imogen Binnie novel Nevada.

8. Bruce LaBruce

Bruce LaBruce and G.B. Jones founded the homocore/queercore movement — a punk-inspired, highly sexualized and deeply queer art movement dating back to 1985. It became a multimedia movement, with bands like Pansy Division and performance artists like Vaginal Creme Davis under the umbrella. Bruce LaBruce was a big part of the film division with his often-explicit, envelope pushing work, like Saint-NarcisseGerontophilia, or 2010’s LA Zombies, which was so provocative, it was banned in Australia.

9. John Cameron Mitchell

John Cameron Mitchell is a white man in his 60s who is wearing a collared shirt and tie and has grey streaks in his black hair. He is smiling against a green background.
John Cameron Mitchell Shutterstock
While John Cameron Mitchell is most known for the rock opera Hedwig and the Angry Inch, his other films are equally important. His followup, 2006’s Shortbus was an explicit exploration of sex. Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhartwas about a couple dealing with the loss of their 4-year-old son. He’s also made music videos, including “Filthy/Gorgeous” for the Scissor Sisters. Of late, he’s been working in the podcast medium.

10. Cheryl Dunye

Cheryl Dunye lgbtq+ directors
Cheryl Dunye Shutterstock
Cheryl Dunye burst on the scene as the first out Black lesbian to direct a feature film with the 1996 classic The Watermelon Woman, about a woman trying to make a film about an actress known for playing “mammy” roles in the 1930s, but who was credited only as “The Watermelon Woman” in her films. In addition to her films, she’s also worked in television, on shows like Dead Boy Detectives and The Umbrella Academy.

11. Isabel Sandoval

Isabel Sandoval is most famous for her 2019 film Lingua Franca, about an undocumented Filipina trans woman living in Brooklyn. Her next film is expected to be Moonglow, set in Manila during the late 1970s. It’s a heist film with a corrupt detective at the center of it.

12. François Ozon

François Ozon‘s debut was the queer satire Sitcom, which had him posed as a potential enfant terrible of French cinema, but his films since have been much broader in appeal. He’s adapted Rainer Werner Fassbinder twice, and even tackled the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal in By the Grace of God.

13. Jamie Babbit

But I'm a Cheerleader! lgbtq+ directors
But I’m a Cheerleader! Screenshot, YouTube
Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader was her debut; it’s a feature film about a cheerleader who, after being forced into conversion therapy, discovers that she actually is a lesbian. Babbit has gone on to make several other comedies, like Addicted to Fresno and The Stand In, and even the crime thriller Breaking the Girls. She also helmed three episodes of Russian Doll, starring Cheerleader star Natasha Lyonne.

14. Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini is the director of the controversial Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom, a brutal film loosely based on the work of the Marquis de Sade, but reworked to be a grotesque criticism of Italian fascism. Though Pasolini’s murder is officially unsolved, it’s widely believed his murder is linked with the far-right terrorist criminal group Banda della Magliana, and many believe Saló was one of the reasons for the crime. In 2019, a biopic starring Willem Dafoe called Pasolini came out.

15. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is part of the New German Cinema movement of the ’60s and ’70s, and he was almost absurdly prolific. Dying in 1982 at 37, he made over 40 films, in addition to two dozen plays and two television series. Though Fassbinder was himself bisexual, he made a number of gay films, including 1975’s Fox and His Friends, which he called “the first film in which the characters are homosexuals, without homosexuality being made into a problem.” However, some critics called Fox homophobic, due to the film’s pessimistic view of superficial gay men.

16. Pedro Almodóvar

Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal in Strange Way of Life lgbtq+ directors
Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal in Pedro Almodóvar’s Strange Way of Life Screenshot
Cult Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has been compared to John Waters. Both Waters and Almodóvar are known for their irreverence and love of kitsch and camp, especially with Almodóvar’s early work. Unlike Waters, Almodóvar has made a number of dramas, but even those have not been without controversy; particularly for its depictions of trans characters and queer villains. His most recent film is the upcoming The Room Next Door, about the relationship between a war correspondent and his mother.

17. Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson

Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson is another jack of all trades. He was one of the founders of the Hipgnosis collective known for its eye-catching, iconic album sleeves during the ’70s — including covers for Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel. He was also a member of the industrial bands Throbbing Gristle and Coil. As a director, he primarily made music videos, making clips for artists as wide-ranging as Ministry and Hanson. One of the few longer-form works he made was Nine Inch Nails’ infamous short film The Broken Movie, never officially released. The entire uncensored film can be seen on  the Internet Archive, following a leak by Trent Reznor himself.

18. Gus Van Sant

Another major figure of the New Queer Cinema movement, Gus Van Sant came on the scene with his debut feature Mala Noche. It was the Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix vehicle My Own Private Idaho that was his first huge success. He also directed Milk, the Harvey Milk biopic, and the first parts of the TV miniseries about gay rights, When We Rise. Recently, he produced and directed a good chunk of the historical TV drama series Feud: Capote vs. the Swans.

19. Joel Schumacher

The late Joel Schumacher may have spent some time in director jail for Batman Forever, which seems to be going under a critical reappraisal these days. But he’ll forever be in our hearts for The Lost Boys, which used vampirism as a metaphor for homosexuality. His debut was the Lily Tomlin-starring The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and he even adapted The Phantom of the Opera for film… though it’s unlikely that film will get a critical boost anytime soon.

20. The Wachowskis

The Wachowski sisters, lgbtq+ directors


The Wachowskis‘ debut film was the absolutely brilliant lesbian thriller Bound, and they became megastar directors with the trans allegory The Matrix. Both sisters came out as trans in the 2010s, and have made unapologetically queer films for their entire careers, even before they were out. After Sense8, the Wachowskis embarked on solo projects, including Lana’s Matrix sequel Resurrections.

Don't forget to share:

Good News is your section for queer joy! Subscribe to our newsletter to get the most positive and fun stories from the site delivered to your inbox every weekend. Send us your suggestions for uplifiting and inspiring stories.

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Disney is giving money to politicians who support Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law

Previous article

This massively influential new age guru became a voice for inclusivity when he came out

Next article