10: Jerrod Carmichael
Jerrod Carmichael is mostly known as a stand-up comedian who’s had roles in various comedies, including the 2014 film Neighbours. Earlier this year, he came out as gay in his comedy special Rothaniel, and has since talked about it while hosting SNL. He produced, starred in, and directed the 2022 black comedy On the Count of Three, as well as two autobiographical documentaries for HBO. He is very much in the early stages of his filmmaking career, but his talent is more than evident, and he’s certainly one to look out for in the future.
9: The Wachowskis
Lily and Lana Wachowski are siblings most famously known for writing and directing the 1999 science fiction classic The Matrix. The sisters are both trans women, and while their work doesn’t tend to overtly deal with gender identity or queerness, the themes are certainly there. The Matrix for example is actually a trans allegory. Neo has dysphoria (that’s the “splinter” in his mind); the Matrix is the gender binary; the agents are transphobia; the red pill represents oestrogen pills; Neo rejects his old name (or deadname) for a new one upon waking up, and the agents, representing transphobia, only refer to him by his old one.
8: Cheryl Dunye
Cheryl Dunye is a Liberian-American director, producer, screenwriter, editor, and actress. Her films typically focus on themes of race, gender, and sexuality, often taking a closer look at the intersection of the three. She is known primarily for the 1996 film The Watermelon Woman – which made Dunye the first openly gay black woman to direct a feature film – as well as various short films, including Janine and Greetings from Africa, both of which focus on lesbian relationships and dating.
7: Pedro Almodovar
Pedro Almodovar is a director, screenwriter, and producer who has been making feature films since 1980. Today, he is not just one of the most internationally successful Spanish filmmakers, but one of the most acclaimed working directors regardless of nationality, with his films having gained a worldwide interest and a cult following. While he dislikes being pigeonholed as a gay filmmaker, his films often incorporate a lot of elements of LGBTQ+ culture, and thus have become part of the queer cinematic canon.
6: Xavier Dolan
Xavier Dolan is probably one of the lesser known directors on this list. He started his career as a child actor in commercials, and, using the money he made from them, wrote, directed, produced, and starred in his debut feature I Killed My Mother at just 19 years old. In 2014, he wrote, produced, directed, and edited Mommy, the film that won him his biggest breakthrough and most acclaim to date. Dolan is openly gay, and his films have dealt with LGBT themes and stories. Laurence Anyways, for example, was his third feature film and focuses on the story of a transgender woman. Dolan has also directed two music videos for Adele, and at just 33 years old, he’s certainly one to keep an eye on in the future.
5: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Perhaps the most controversial filmmaker on this list, Pier Paolo Pasolini was an Italian director, poet, novelist, journalist, actor, playwright, intellectual, political figure… Pasolini did a lot during his (far too brief) 53 years with us, though he is most famous for his political filmmaking. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom is his most famous film, largely owing to the incredibly controversial content, and the reactions to it from film historians and critics as well as general audiences. While Pasolini didn’t tend to overtly deal with themes surrounding LGBT issues, his poetry did, and he is now regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.
4: Todd Haynes
Todd Haynes is a director who has made nine feature films throughout his career, including his debut Poison, which is considered to be one of the first films among the New Queer Cinema movement. Several of Haynes’ films tell queer stories – Carol (2015), for example, is a romantic period drama about a love affair between two women in 1950s New York City. Haynes is openly gay, and though he doesn’t want to be characterised as a gay filmmaker who makes gay films, his work has become associated with New Queer Cinema and undoubtedly explores queer culture in America.
3: Gus Van Sant
One of the most prominent directors of the New Queer Cinema movement is Gus Van Sant, whose films frequently touch on themes surrounding marginalised subcultures – especially gay people. He has won numerous accolades, including the Palme D’Or and Best Director awards at Cannes Film Festival – both of which he actually won in the same year (for Elephant), making him one of only two directors to achieve such a feat. While he has had his share of critical and commercial failures, he is also a widely acclaimed auteur, and as one of the most important of the New Queer Cinema movement, it would be remiss for him to not be included on this list.
2: Chantal Akerman
One of the most influential feminist filmmakers of all time, Chantal Akerman is most famous for her three-and-a-half hour masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. It examines the life of a single mother, the eponymous Jeanne, meticulously detailing the repetitious mundanity of the life of a housewife, and while many consider it a masterpiece of feminist filmmaking, Akerman herself was hesitant to be labelled as a feminist filmmaker, stating “I don’t think woman’s cinema exists.” Akerman rejected labels in general, claiming that there is more than one way for people to express themselves. Regardless of what labels may apply to her, she is now considered one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.
1: John Waters
John Waters is a filmmaker, actor, artist, writer, and all-around icon. Many of his films – which include Pink Flamingos (1972) and Hairspray (1988) – are now regarded as transgressive cult classics that utilise post-modern comedy and surrealism to create rather unique moviegoing experiences. It’s probably no surprise, then, that Waters has said that he takes an equal amount of pleasure and influence from both high-brow arthouse films and sleazy exploitation flicks. Waters is generally a private person, but is openly gay and is an avid supporter of gay rights and gay pride, frequently attending marches and events and speaking at them. An LGBT icon if ever there was one.