5 LGBTQ Documentaries to Stream After Disclosure

After watching Disclosure on Netflix, add these formative documentaries that cover LGBTQ subjects to the top of your queue.

disclosure sylvia rivera and marsha p johnson
Image courtesy of Netflix.

Since its June 19 premiere, viewers have flocked to Netflix to watch Disclosure, Sam Feder’s survey of transgender representation in film and television.

In the film, Laverne Cox, Mj Rodriguez, Chaz Bono, Lilly Wachowski, Jen Richards, and more transgender creatives and thinkers analyze historical depictions of transgender people in media—from transphobic (and often racist) silent films from the early 1900s to the groundbreaking series Pose. Meantime, they trace their understanding of their own identities and experiences as they’ve been depicted on screen, and the impacts those representations have had on American culture overall.

Many of the cinematic depictions mentioned in Disclosure will be familiar, though the documentary looks at them through a lens that may be new to some. Most of those films and television series referenced throughout the film are worth seeking out to be viewed in their entirety. And below are just a handful of documentaries that cover LGBTQ subjects—hopefully they provide a deeper understanding of the struggle for queer liberation in the United States.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

This year, it seems more people are recognizing queer activist Marsha P. Johnson, for her role in paving the way for gay liberation and participation in the 1969 Stonewall uprising. When her body was found in the Hudson River in 1992, her death was ruled a suicide, but The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson interrogates that narrative, seeking justice for Johnson and paying tribute to her work. That being said, the production of The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson has a thorny history. Tourmaline, formerly known as Reina Gossett, alleged that the director David France stole from her archival research and films without proper credit, in order to make his documentary for Netflix. So, with that in mind, consider watching Happy Birthday, Marsha!, directed by Sasha Wortzel and Tourmaline and starring Tangerine‘s Mya Taylor as well.

Where to stream: Netflix

Circus of Books

With Circus of Books, Rachel Mason paints a portrait of her family, and her parents, Karen and Barry Mason, who accidentally became the owners and operators of a Los Angeles store that was the largest distributor of hardcore gay porn in the United States.

Where to stream: Netflix

The Queen

Referenced in Disclosure, Frank Simon’s 1968 documentary was re-released in 2019. The film focuses on the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest, and follows the drag queen participants in the competition—including House of Labeija founder Crystal LaBeija. Think of it as a predecessor to RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Where to stream: Netflix

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood

Fans of Netflix’s Hollywood will recognize something similar about this documentary, in which gas station attendant Scotty Bowers became a pimp to the stars of the silver screen from the 1940s to 1980s. That’s because the series was based, in part, on this real story, which was also chronicled in Bowers’s memoir, Full Service. Bowers passed away in 2019, not long after the film premiered.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

How Do I Look

It is impossible to talk about the evolution of on-screen depictions of drag and ball culture without talking about Paris Is Burning. But as outlined in Disclosure, that documentary is, while formative and goundbreaking, deeply problematic—and many of its subjects were not given the platform to voice their concerns about their exploitation by filmmaker Jennie Livingston in the documentation process. There were also concerns about the spectacle depicted in the film for white audiences. In 2006, Wolfgang Busch released How Do I Look, which takes a deep dive into a decade of ball culture in Philadelphia and Harlem, giving more of a voice to legends Willi Ninja, Kevin Ultra-Omni, Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper LaBeija and Jose Xtravaganza, and addresses the mainstream-ification of the ball circuit.

Where to stream: Amazon

Related: From Miss Juneteenth to Jezebel, Black Female Directors Lead a New Hollywood Vanguard