Ruby B. Rich, an author, transformed the world of cinematic discussion forever by defining a new term for a then-fresh wave of queer cinema at high-profile film festivals. There were many similarities across many titles in this canon, especially in terms of how they reconstituted older films for queer points of view.
The New Queer Cinema movement, as Rich herself explains throughout her essay, was not the first time in history that cinema with an LGBTQIA+ perspective had existed. Queer cinema has always had a place in international cinema, dating back to the 1919 and 1931 releases, each of which screened in the first half of the 20th century, and films that have gone on to win widespread acceptance within the LGBTQIA+ community.
The 1980s had been a terrible decade for the LGBTQIA+ community in many ways, but especially in the way it worsened the AIDS epidemic, which claimed the lives of many people across the LGBTQIA+ community. Many in power outright supported these deaths, as did Margaret Thatcher's record of homophobic legislation in the United Kingdom.
Queer voices were poised to be loud, bold, and uphold society's policies that had condemned them to death in the 1980s. Paris Is Burning isn't considered a part of the New Queer Cinema movement by scholars. However, its critical and even financial success at the outset of the decade helped shape much more experimental filmmaking.
Poison, directed by Todd Haynes, is well-known for launching a new queer cinema movement. It's a collection of three short films that emerged during the 1990s, with the latter being a rebuke against the notion that queer cinema might premiere at high-profile film festivals.
With My Own Private Idaho, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Greg Araki would take the stage again in the following year. Other films such as Tom Kalin's Swoon would be released to further stir up interest in what queer cinema might be like across the world.
Rich argues that when queer male stories were promoted at film festivals and picked up for theatrical distribution, they did at least help mitigate these issues. The 1994 film Go Fish by Rose Troche is a relaxed comedy about a group of lesbians with varying personalities with the kind of snappy dialogue that fits well with early 1990s indie authors like Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino.
Cheryl Dunyes The Watermelon Woman would be an amalgamation of many of New Queer Cinema's characteristics. This character searches the internet for information on a Black actress who went uncredited for her performance as "the Watermelon Woman" in a 1940s film. This achievement is significant because it was the first to receive a traditional theatrical release since the time of this movement.
The Age of New Queer Cinema would inevitably come to an end by the final years of the 1990s. Part of this was linked to how the movements most prominent filmmakers had grown too big to be left in the indie scene. For example, Arakis 1999 feature Splendor, which was praised by critics for indicating the decline in the public's perception of the movements' most prolific artists.
The aftermath of 9/11 would wreak havoc on America, and even documentary films tended to favour queer people more than mainstream 1990s queer fare like The Birdcage.
Richs's remarks about the Sundance Film Festival in 1992, just as New Queer Cinema was launching, only adds to those melancholy thoughts. For him, for her, and for all of us, these are all actors who were engaged in the beginnings of a new queer historiography.
As history has demonstrated, the new Queer Cinema doors would not be allowed to be closed forever. The indie film scene took some steps forward in the 1990s, but there's no denying it would take steps back when the millennium arose. The modern world of pop culture is still rife with queer cinema breaking down filmmaking norms and challenging the status quo. Theyre living up to the values established by New Queer Cinema.
As New Queer Cinema grew on a path established by the likes of Desert Hearts and Tongues Untied, so too are modern queer works tipping their hats to Dunye and Haynes. While seeing 21st-century films as daring as Rafiki, Tangerine, and Pariah, it's clear that its vibrant spirit is still alive and well. No matter what external forces try to slay it out.