Women and the Queer Community in Film and Photography

Curated by A. Swasey (she/her) 

The history of women and people in the Queer community has been long underrepresented in film and photography. This lack of representation throughout history has impacts reaching across generations. Here we will examine some works that seek to elevate these voices. The significance of seeing one’s self represented cannot be overstated.

"Reel Grrls. Michael B. Maine interview" by Roni Bass, Geena Rojas, and Michael B. Maine, 5 Mar. 2018, CC BY-NC 4.0. From Feminist Community Archive of Washington.

In Washington state, Reel Grrls is a nonprofit organization created in 2001 by filmmaker Malory Graham. It is a space to empower all young women in the art of film and photography, led and taught by a multicultural group of women. The audio interview with the president of Reel Grrls, Michael B. Maine, highlights a space where young women have access to these art forms. He discusses his background in film and photography, and how Reel Grrls inspired him with their resilience and creative works. In 2011, Comcast tried to defund the organization, prompting Reel Grrls to advocate for themselves and the significance of their work. Maine highlights the organization and the significance of Reel Grrls remaining a place of growth and opportunity for young women, especially young women of color, who are centered in this work. He encourages young women to produce the film work they want to, in the manner they choose to. Today, individual donors help by donating money to keep Reel Grrls running for the community.

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SHE series by Raina Matar, 2019. From the National Museum of Women in Art.

Shot by Raina Matar in 2019 for her SHE series, the exhibit from the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington State, showcases the photographic art styles of multiple women. Raina captures model Rayven in Miami Beach, FL. Her series specifically highlights young women and their representation in photography. I found this piece to be significant to the artifacts in this exhibit, because the art is not only captured by a woman, but showcases young women as the focal point of the art.


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Female Mimics International Magazine Cover Vol. 12 No. 5. by Linda Lee, J.D. Kidd, Kim Christy, 1982. From Digital Transgender Archive.

The magazine Female Mimics International focuses on capturing a representation of cross-dressing, and transgender existence, on a global scale. Female Mimics International was a sub-category of the magazine Female Mimics, formed in the early 1980s. The piece is a unique artifact that documents the history of transgender and Queer individuals across the world. In the still-shot from Japan 1982, the image captures drag queen Nikko as the magazine's cover girl.



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Identity + Culture & Spirit, 1992. From ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.

Through provocative words such as Identity, Spirit, and Culture, the poster image showcases the exhibit for young gay and lesbian film, graphics, painting, photography, prints, and sculpture artists in Boston, MA 1992. The relevancy of these words is in the individuals behind the art. There is power in the art created as a form of protest, resistance, and identity in unison with art created as expression and talent. Sharing this artifact is a moment in history, where efforts were made to champion young gay and lesbian creatives, and is documentation of resistance and persistence in the Queer community.


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Dia de la Hispanidad (Hispanic Day Parade) by Cándido Negrón, 1991. From ACT UP Oral History.

In New York City on October 14, 1991, Dia de la Hispanidad (Hispanic Day Parade) was captured by Cándido Negrón. Her photography documents the activist group, "AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power" (ACT UP), and their Latin American community. In this shot, radical activism is showcased, along with their flags and signs labeled with numbers representing the number of deaths in the Latin American community due to HIV/AIDS. This artifact speaks to not only the work and history of ACT UP, but the resistance of the Latin American community in regards to the AIDS crisis.

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2021 Korean Queer Film Festival Poster, 2021. From Library of Congress.

The poster for the 22nd annual Korean Queer Film Festival held in 2021, is a current-day representation of Queerness, and the importance of maintaining representation in film. The event showcased 69 films both starring and directed/produced by Queer individuals in Korea. These films cover topics of present society, relationships to the body, cultural impacts, issues of sexual violence, invisible Queer men in their youth, and most currently the impact of the Coronavirus.

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Odd Ones Out (Dana McClure, 2008). From Kanopy, Seattle Public Library.

 In Dana McClure's four-part documentary project from 2008 Odd Ones Out, she brings the audience to learn the stories of three transgender teens named Naomi, Tot, and David. In the film, they share their experiences facing adulthood, family struggles, homelessness, violence, sex work, identity, and reoccurring changes in their lives. I chose this film as an artifact because the director responds to the neglect of the transgender lens rarely explored, humanizing a marginalized group before our very eyes. It calls on us as the audience to reflect on our own ideas of what gender is, rather than what our expectations and binaries say.

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Denise Ho: Becoming the Song by Sue Williams, 2020. From Kanopy, Seattle Public Library.

The film Denise Ho: Becoming the Song, showcases resistance towards homophobia and government-driven limitations on gay rights. It is a 2020 documentary by director Sue Williams about Denise Ho Wan-see, the only openly gay musician in Hong Kong. Denise is a human rights activist who has faced ridicule and oppression for her work and identity within the Queer community. From limitations in her own identity, to being physically thrown out of her house and blacklisted by her country, Denise’s resilience is paving the way for other Asians in the Queer community who have and will follow after her.

Film is an art form used to shape our understanding of the world around us, allowing us to view the perspectives of people outside of our own lens and align ourselves with the representations of who we are or even wish to be. Photography documents history, captures stories, and showcases art. Both are a direct form of resistance to the oppression and marginalization both women and the Queer community have and continue to encounter. The artifacts I chose were not easy to find. The representation of women and the Queer community in film and photography continues to be limited, often to beauty ads, protest posters and shock value dialogues. As we learn about and embrace people and cultures for who they are, we can only cultivate a stronger society.

Sources Cited for Artifacts:

Bass, Roni, and Geena Rojas. “Interview with Michael B. Maine.” Feminist Digital Archive of Washington, 5 Mar. 2018, https://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/digital/collection/p16786coll12/id/579/rec/2. Accessed 8 Mar. 2022. Audio file interview of Michael B. Maine president of Reel Grrls, in Seattle, WA.

Identity + Culture & Spirit. Boston, MA, 1992. https://digitallibrary.usc.edu/Archive/ONE-National-Gay-and-Lesbian-Archives-2A3BF1OWT04

“Korean Queer Film Festival 2021 .” Korean Queer Film Festival , 2021, https://www.kqff.co.kr/kqff2021. Accessed 3 Mar. 2022. Accessed Through the Library of Congress Archives.

Lee, Linda, et al. “Female Mimics International Vol. 12 No. 5.” Female Mimics International , vol. 12, no. 5, 1982. Digital Transgender Archive , https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/xg94hp56z. Accessed 3 Mar. 2022.

Matar, Raina. “SHE Series .” National Museum of Women In The Arts, 2019, https://nmwa.org/press/national-museum-of-women-in-the-arts-announces-new-acquisitions/. Accessed 8 Mar. 2022.

McClure, Dana, director. Odd Ones Out. Seattle Public Library , RAINLAKE, 2008., [San Francisco, California, USA] : Kanopy Streaming, 2021., 2008, https://seattle.bibliocommons.com/v2/record/S30C3677662. Accessed 6 Mar. 2022.

Negrón, Cándido. “Dia De La Hispanidad (Hispanic Day Parade).” ACT UP Oral History, 14 Oct. 1991, https://actuporalhistory.org/lc-archive/dia-de-la-hispanidad-action. Accessed 2 Mar. 2022.

Williams, Sue, director. Denise Ho: Becoming the Song. Seattle Public Library, Kino Lorber, 2020. [San Francisco, California, USA] : Kanopy Streaming, 2021., 2020, https://seattle.bibliocommons.com/v2/record/S30C3677717. Accessed 8 Mar. 2022.

About the Author: 

A. Swasey (she/her) is a Senior at the University of Washington Bothell. Swasey is majoring in Society, Ethics and Human Behavior with a minor in Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies. 


Thank you to Dr. Julie Shayne, Denise Hattwig, Penelope Wood, and Jesse Blaire for their guidance, time, and expertise to help make this project possible.