Summer is so last season: Previewing this fall's cornucopia of queer arts and culture

From a Freddie Mercury biopic to Rufus Wainwright's big queer opera, get ready for a very LGBTQ autumn.

From a Freddie Mercury biopic to Rufus Wainwright's big queer opera, get ready for a very LGBTQ autumn

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. (Fox)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

While attempting to anticipate anything regarding the season that comes after summer isn't always the easiest pill to swallow (especially for us Canadians), hear me out: when it comes to LGBTQ arts, fall is where it's actually at. Sure, there are no Pride festivals (and how much of your interest in those is about "the art" anyway?) but there are a bunch of other LGBTQ-centric fests — not to mention movies, TV, music and shows. Just scroll through this handy queer guide to your falls for proof:


Boy Erased (TIFF)

With a couple of exceptions (The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the underdeveloped character Nico Santos played in Crazy Rich Asians), summer was pretty much a dead zone for queer cinema. The next few months will more than make up for that. On November 2nd alone, two of the year's most anticipated LGBTQ-themed films are being released — though they are also the two I'd consider with the most caution: Boy Erased and Bohemian Rhapsody.

With respect to the former, I already wrote about why the Joel Edgerton-directed gay conversion therapy drama isn't really for queer people but could still some good anyway (you can read more about that here). But regarding the latter? We don't know yet. Rami Malek sure looks like he's done a good job as Freddie Mercury, at least according to the trailer. But the biopic had a very troubled production when director Bryan Singer was replaced by Dexter Fletcher halfway through filming amid sexual assault allegations (though Singer's still getting the only official credit) — so who knows what shape it's been left in, or how Mercury's sexuality will be handled in a PG-13 rated film being released by a major studio. 

Thankfully, though, there are a quintet of pre-approved alternatives. On October 19th, two great films that just screened at the Toronto International Film Festival will be released: Marielle Heller's Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Keith Behrman's Giant Little Ones. Heller's early 1990s-set film depicts the true story of lesbian writer (and literary forger) Lee Israel, and it's a deeply affecting film in large part due to Melissa McCarthy's performance as Israel and Richard E. Grant as her gay drinking buddy and accomplice Jack Hock. Giant Little Ones, meanwhile, stars Kyle MacLachlan and Maria Bello as the parents of a teenage boy (Josh Wiggins) struggling to understand his sexuality in the wake of a wild night with his male best friend. Brooding and authentic — and vaguely set in Sault Ste. Marie! — it got a little drowned out from the buzz of higher profile films at TIFF but very much deserves your movie-going attention this fall.

Olivia Colman in The Favourite. (Fox Searchlight)

The other trio of films all depict important narratives from queer history in vastly different ways. Yen Tan's titularly-set 1985 (which screened at Toronto's Inside Out and the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, among many others) is an intensely moving portrait of a closeted gay man coming home to Texas to tell his parents he's dying of AIDS. Meanwhile, Rupert Everett's directorial debut The Happy Prince (which premiered at Sundance) passionately depicts the tragic final days of iconic queer author Oscar Wilde, with Everett himself playing Wilde and Colin Firth as Reggie Turner. And then, of course, there's Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite, which drew unanimous praise out of the Venice Film Festival for its very queer depiction of the relationship between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and a pair of cousins (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) jockeying — in all ways imaginable — to be her favourite (at the Venice Film Festival, Colman and Stone noted how fun it was having sex with each other in the film).

And while the only explicitly queer thing about it is the brief presence of RuPaul's Drag Race alums Shangela and Willem as drag queens who give Lady Gaga's character what turns out to be the opportunity of a lifetime, it would feel incomplete to not at least note that A Star Is Born is coming out this Friday and that gay men will surely be a huge force behind the likelihood of it making a ton of money.

Festivals and shows!

I'm Afraid of Men is a book by Vivek Shraya, that will be touring this fall. (Zachary Ayotte, Penguin Canada)

If those movies aren't enough for you, a few cities across Canada will also be hosting LGBTQ-focused film festivals this fall. Reel Pride Winnipeg goes down October 9-14 in Manitoba's capital, Whitehorse hosts the Out North Queer Festival from November 2-4, the Toronto Queer Film Festival runs November 1-4 and Montreal's 31st Image+Nation LGBT Queer Film Festival will be held November 22-December 2.

There are also many Canadian LGBTQ writers — including Jordan Tannahill, Vivek Shraya, Rick Mercer, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Amber Dawn and Joshua Whitehead — being featured during Canada's literary festival season, which includes Calgary's Wordfest (October 8-15), the Vancouver Writers Festival (October 15-21), the Toronto International Festival of Authors (October 18-28) and the Ottawa International Writers Festival (October 25-30). And if you want a writer's festival that's all queer all the time, look no further than Toronto's Naked Heart, which has its fourth edition November 9-11 as it continues to be the largest LGBTQ literary festival in the world.

Beyond that, cities across the country will be hosting big queer events not tied to festivals, like the now-underway 40th season of queer work at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, Adrian Stimson's solo exhibition Naked Napi at Vancouver's new SUM Gallery (Stimson will also notably be on this week's episode of CBC Arts' In The Making) and Zachari Logan and Ross Bleckner's queer collaboration The Shadow of the Sun at the College Art Galleries in Saskatoon.


A promotional image from Hadrian. (Canadian Opera Company)

Some more music-specific shows that give even more reasons to look forward to the fall include the immensely anticipated world premiere of Canadian queer legends Rufus Wainwright and Daniel MacIvor's collaborative opera Hadrian. A tragic queer love story between the titular Roman emperor and his beloved Antinous, it runs October 13-27 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

Last week's edition of this column highlighted the currently ongoing Tour of Heart & Mind, a cross-Canada mission of the Queer Songbook Orchestra to spread queer love to small and mid-sized cities through their stories and songs. They have two shows in Saskatchewan this week before moving on to Winnipeg, Fredericton, Charlottetown, Sackville, Halifax and St. John's over the next few weeks. 

Queer Songbook Orchestra. (Tanja Tiziana)

Recent Polaris Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher — the third queer-identified musician to win a row! — is also on a cross-Canada mission right now, with shows in Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto all upcoming. And while there are only a handful of Canadian dates (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver in both cases), international queer pop sensations Years & Years and Troye Sivan are both on the road right now too.

And then there's the release of the long-anticipated albums of three undeniable LGBTQ icons: Cher's ABBA cover album Dancing Queen (her 26th studio album and first in five years, released last week); Robyn's Honey (her first album since 2010) and Boy George-led Culture Club's Life (their first since 1999). Both Honey and Life are out on October 27, and honey, life is going to be very queer as a result that day.


The Bisexual. (Hulu)

OK, so actually — despite this usually being the opposite, historically — it doesn't look like the fall schedule for new series on TV and streaming service is going to top the queer wonder that was this summer. The sole new series on my radar that really has me excited is Hulu's The Bisexual, which is starring, directed by and co-written by the wonderful Desiree Akhavan (who directed this year's The Misdeducation of Cameron Post and Appropriate Behavior before that — both must sees). Premiering November 16th, it follows a woman (Akhavan) navigating a life of dating men and women after predominately focusing on the latter for most of her adult life. Considering Akhavan has so far done no wrong in her career (she also had a great recurring role on Girls), this is definitely something to anticipate. 

Beyond that, the only LGBTQ TV events are the ongoing — and quite queer — latest season of American Horror Story, the return of Will & Grace (October 4) and the Roseanne-free, Sara Gilbert-led reboot The Conners (October 16), none of which quite feel like breaths of queer fresh air. So instead, let me direct you a little back in time to whatever you've missed from summer: Pose, Queer Eye, Orange is the New Black, A Very English Scandal, Nanette, Vida, Killing Eve, RuPaul's Drag Race...if you're entirely caught up on all those shows already, then you probably didn't go outside all summer, so maybe it might be good for you to go for a walk. We hear there are coloured leaves.


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2020s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.