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There’s an elusive L in LGBT: where to find the best lesbian films online

Women are not well served in LGBT cinema but two niche networks are attempting to redress the balance.

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It has been said a lot recently, sometimes in this very column, that we are living in something of a golden age for LGBT film-making, as films from Moonlight to Call Me By Your Name to Love, Simon enjoy unprecedented levels of mainstream acclaim and exposure. But it’s hard not to note, when it comes to the movies, that the “G” rather disproportionately dwarfs the initialism’s other letters. Female-focused queer releases such as Carol or this week’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post remain a minority within a minority cinema; the patriarchy is a hard institution to shake.

Naturally, it’s an imbalance that extends to the streaming world too, as LGBT-oriented streaming services cater more generously for a male gaze than a female one. That includes such outlets as the expressly gay-focused Dekkoo, which mixes worthwhile classics and international indies from the festival circuit – seek out the lovely, heartsore German marital drama Paths, for example – with ropier softcore fare. A sparklier platform Revry, launched two years ago, aims for greater queer inclusivity – it houses a lot of drag-related content, in particular – but still winds up giving women shorter shrift.

So it’s not surprising that a couple of attempts have been made at launching a lesbian-specific streaming service, where gay women needn’t look to the margins to see their own stories on screen. None has been comprehensive, however. A few years back, the austerely named Section II launched, and hopeful claims were made for it as “the lesbian Netflix”, though anyone approaching it as such may be a bit disappointed. Its film section looks promising, with a menu boasting such tasty offerings as Dee Rees’s Pariahand Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy, but a lack of maintenance and/or budget has led to a lot of dead links or teasing recommendations to other platforms.

Clearly original content has been easier to produce and retain. Section II houses several appealingly low-key films, web series and one-offs, including a ribald comedy special with standup Julie Goldman, and Brides to Be, a romantic mystery ambitiously conceived on a shoestring.

More recently, a lesbian-directed subscription service, Tello Films, has taken the lead in that regard, assembling a substantial collection of original reality shows and drama web series. One of them, the salty, spiky Secs and Execs,recently received an Emmy nomination in the short-form field. With a spry ensemble headed by Sandra Bernhard, it covers workplace tensions at a women’s sportswear company from both ends of the power ladder. Tello’s film selection is anaemic if pleasingly international in scope, including such otherwise little-exposed items as the South African apartheid-era love story The World Unseen.

It’s a service evidently laying foundations for bigger things. Perhaps the market may yet provide more comprehensive viewing hubs for the “L” quadrant, or even a more alphabetically all-encompassing streaming service for the queer community at large. (Niche networks are all well and good, but as monthly subscription fees pile up, larger, more diverse libraries make economic sense.) Netflix may do a better job than most of presenting and identifying content of LGBT interest to viewers, but true representation in the streaming world is still very much at the experimenting stage.

New to streaming and DVD this week

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Mariana Nunes in the challenging but sensually overwhelming Zama.

Zama (Drakes Avenue, 15)
Elusive Argentinian Lucrecia Martel continues to prove herself one of the most madly brilliant film-makers alive with this challenging but sensually overwhelming post-colonial fever dream (right).

A Star Is Born (Warner Bros, 15)
Bradley Cooper’s terrific revival of this Hollywood chestnut is a month away, making this restored release of its brashest, loopiest, Streisand-est incarnation perfectly timed.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Altitude, PG)
The inaugural release from Studio Ponoc, the new Japanese animation studio founded by Studio Ghibli refugees, captures some of the old magic with this dizzy fairytale.

Cold Water (Sony, 15)
One of the Criterion Collection’s most welcome recent coups, a gleaming restoration of Olivier Assayas’s exquisite, autobiographical, long-unavailable Parisian coming-of-age vision.

Racer and the Jailbird (Thunderbird, 15)
The old-school B-movie plot is irrelevant hokum; it’s a basic framework over which to drape the gorgeous, sinuous star chemistry of Matthias Schoenaerts and Adèle Exarchopoulos.


Cover photo: Dee Rees’s Pariah (2011), with Adepero Oduye, streaming now on Section II. Photo: Chicken And Egg/Mbk/Northstar/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

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