7 Stunning, Authentic Adaptations That Bring Queer Stories to Life

A good book to movie adaptation is hard to beat, especially when they add representation for LGBTQ+ voices and stories. Here are some to get you started.

Adaptations LGBTQIA+ Reads Pop Culture Recommendations Young Adult
book cover and adaptation poster on a cream background with two Pride rainbows along the corners

Every reader has that particular character, book, series, or author that just gets them. With every piece of dialogue or descriptive detail, we feel seen and understood through reading in a way that is hard to replicate. For as long as books have been around, readers have gravitated to stories that represent them: their struggles, identities, interests, and cultures. The most significant representation, however, is the presence of LGBTQ+ characters and storylines in media.

Trigger Warning for Content: The mention of sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, physical violence, and suicide may be triggering for some readers. Please exercise personal care when reading this article and/or reading or watching any of the titles listed.

Why Representation and Being Seen Matters

For a community that has faced boundless hate, violence, and discrimination, positive representations in books, movies, and TV shows help LGBTQ+ people see that they are seen and appreciated. They can find a place of acceptance and characters to connect with. Queer stories also allow voices to be heard and shared in a predominantly heteronormative society. Books have been a chance for queer readers to escape any hardships in reality. But sometimes, it is difficult to feel truly connected to words on paper. There’s that horrible moment of realization with reading that you are not part of the story; you’re just reading it. That is why film and TV adaptations are so critical in our media. We can see these stories come to life in a way that allows for a more seamless connection between the characters and the audience.

We all have heard the phrase, “The book is better,” but sometimes the cinematography, score, and acting can leave a greater impact on us than just reading. Here are seven book-to-screen adaptations to help celebrate queer stories.

Love, Simon (2018)

love simon movie poster red background with four teenagers across bottom and black and white title text across top

A new classic! Based on Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Love, Simon centers around Simon Spier and his journey to tell the truth to his family and friends about his sexuality. It’s charming, sweet, and revolutionary as one of the first films released by a major production company as a gay teenage romance. Coming out is a defining moment in one’s journey of self-acceptance, and seeing that handled gracefully by a teenager is inspiring and optimistic for younger viewers.

simon vs the homo sapiens agenda book cover red background black and white drawn sketch of teenage male torso wearing v neck sweater with hands in pockets with speech bubble coming out of neck with title text inside

This adaptation received enormous praise on social media for its humor, honesty, and charisma. There are little changes between the book and the film, as well as the sequel series Love, Victor on Hulu. Small tweaks like Simon’s age, how many siblings he has, and the musical they perform in school differentiate the story between the two mediums. Despite this, Love, Simon is adored, by fans of the original book, and also, those who just watched the movie, for making coming out seem (for the 110 minutes it lasts) not so scary.

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)

blue is the warmest color movie poster close up photo of two women embraced with the one on the right kissing the other womans cheek and holding her face as woman on the left looks to the side and white title text in the bottom left corner

Based on Jul Maroh’s graphic novel of the same name, Blue is the Warmest Color is a French film about a teenager, Adèle, struggling with her sexuality. One day, Adèle sees an older woman, Emma, while out in the streets, whom she keeps thinking about until she meets her again at a lesbian bar. They begin a passionate sexual relationship, up through the rest of Adèle’s time and high school and through her early adult years. They are unable to be completely honest about the true nature of their relationship because of Adèle’s conservative parents. However, as the years go on, their relationship becomes tense, as they are unsure of what they really have in common besides them both being lesbians.

blue is the warmest color graphic novel cover drawn sketch of woman shirtless back turned with short wavy dyed blue hair looking down to the right with title text in pink on right shoulderblade

The 2010 graphic novel won numerous awards and high critical praise. There are two distinct differences between the novel and the film: in the novel, Adèle’s character is named Clémentine, although the rest of her characterization is similar, and the ending varies drastically (I won’t spoil this one). Yet, Adèle and Emma’s story displays the intensity behind a first relationship. It can be difficult to let go or move on from someone who was with you while you were figuring things out about yourself, which is why their romance can be seen as similar to viewers’ own lives.

The Handmaiden (2016)

the handmaiden movie poster one woman sitting down looking straight at camera with one woman behind her on the left side and a man behind her on the right side with his hand on her shoulder and another man behind the second woman holding her neck

The Handmaiden is a 2016 adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith. It is a South Korean thriller about a con man, Count Fijiwara, who strategizes to marry an heiress and then send her to an aslyum to gain her inheritance. The heiress, Lady Hideko, ends up having sex with her maid, Sook-hee, under the impression Sook-hee was helping Hideko prepare for her marriage. Throughout the course of the Count’s plan, Hideko ends up falling in love with Sook-Hee, and the two plot a way for them to run away and get married.

fingersmith book cover black background with dimly lit photo of black wood chest with cream gloves on top

Out of this list, this adaptation changes the most in its shift from text to film. Fingersmith is set in Victorian Britain, with protagonist Sue acting as the maid in a similar scheme. Switching narratives between Sue and heiress Maud, the complications of the Gentleman’s scheme, along with Maud’s disturbing past growing up in her uncle’s home. Its adaptation received massive acclaim after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. For fans of the historical fiction and psychological thriller genre, check these out!

Maurice (1987)

maurice film poster close up head shot of middle aged man wearing suit looking to the right with transparent layer of another man on the left side seeming to look at him and match his gaze

Set in Edwardian England, Maurice tells the story of Maurice Hall and his journey of self-acceptance with his homosexuality. Starting in childhood, Maurice grieves the loss of his friend George, who left his position as a family servant, and the heartbreak Maurice feels confuses him. In college, he befriends Clive, later developing feelings for him but never engaging with him physically. Maurice is afraid his homosexual desires if made public, will hinder him from advancing socially and landing an adequate job. The film continues with Maurice struggling with Clive and also forming a relationship with Clive’s family’s gamekeeper, Alec.

maurice book cover cream background with red lace strip over top two small male silhouettes below and title text in pink below them

The 1987 film follows a very close storyline to Forster’s novel. Originally written around 1913, Forster believed the work was unable to be published because of its central theme of homosexuality, which was illegal at the time. After Forster’s death, the novel was published and received mixed reviews from critics. However, it’s important to recognize how queer stories have been around for centuries, even if they aren’t made public.

Boy Erased (2018)

boy erased movie poster man and woman sitting next to each other softly smiling at something beyond the camera with teenage boy looking troubled behind them

This 2018 film displays the harsh reality many LGBTQ+ people face, as it is a biographical story based on Garrard Conley’s memoir. A young Jared, traumatized from rape, is blackmailed into coming out to his religiously devout parents. He is sent to conversion therapy in hopes of “curing” his homosexuality. Boy, Erased highlights the fear and repression many LGBTQ+ youth experience, especially in an unsupportive home environment.

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Conley’s memoir is just as honest and heartbreaking as the film, with his narrative of being outed to his Baptist parents and having to decide whether to be disowned or go to conversion therapy aligning with the film’s plot. A difficult choice too many are forced to make. Both Conley and Jared take their experiences and later on in life use their story to expose conversion therapy programs, with the goal of reducing the number of people enrolled.

The Color Purple (1985, 2023)

the color purple 2023 movie poster with three portraits of women posed on the bottom with image of sun behind them and gold title text on purple background

Two adaptations for one story! The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a famous coming-of-age novel that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and has received great critical praise. It was adapted originally for a 1985 film, then into a 2005 Broadway musical, and lastly into a refreshed film in 2023. It is a devastating story about violence, traumatizing family connections, and hope for escape. The Color Purple depicts Celie’s struggle for freedom from her abusive father and husband and the relationship she forms with Shug, her husband’s mistress, with whom Celie finds solace.

the color purple book cover sketch of two black women wearing purple shirts with one in front of the other the one behind with her head leaning on the others neck both tilted to the right with white title text on the top

The 1985 adaptation starred Whoopi Goldberg, Donald Glover, and Oprah Winfrey and was directed by Steven Spielberg. Despite its great reviews and numerous nominations, it did not win any Academy Awards. In 2005, a Broadway musical rendition of the story opened, and similar to its cinematic companion, it was nominated for many Tony Awards but only won one. Most recently, director Blitz Bazawule adapted the Broadway musical into a feature film starring Taraji B. Henson and produced by Winfrey. With so many adaptations, it is clear that this is a significant story that still deserves to be shared with new audiences.

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

call me by your name movie poster blue background with yellow scrawled title text with two men leaned against each other looking up from the bottom

Perhaps the most popular adaptation to round out this list, Call Me by Your Name, is another coming-of-age romance about young Elio and visiting Oliver, who share a summer together in Northern Italy. Oliver is a grad student studying under Elio’s father, so he stays with the family doing research. The two have a deep, passionate relationship, which leaves Elio frustrated and desperate for more time with Oliver.

call me by your name book cover blue background with two men leaning on each other looking up from the bottom with yellow title text above them

The novel follows a memory narrative, where Elio is reflecting back on this summer they shared. While the film stops after the holidays, the novel continues into the next twenty years, with Elio visiting the U.S. to visit Oliver and one last visit from Oliver to Elio’s family home in Italy. The novel received countless positive reviews of author André Aciman’s portrayal of obsessive love, and the film earned a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival. The soundtrack for the film is heavily discussed on social media by viewers, with Sufjan Stevens capturing the feelings of the story into songs perfectly.

All of these adaptations include gay love in ways that destigmatize non-heteronormative relationships. LGBTQ+ youth experience the same feelings everyone else does, because for everyone, growing up and figuring out who you are is difficult. In all genres, romantic love is a place of escape and comfort, including gay love. These films offer queer representation to help others see that gay people are still people; they are a way to learn and understand experiences like coming out that, as Simon Spiers pointed out, straight people don’t have to do. Whether you just need some new book or movie recommendations or you want to start diversifying your media, I hope this list is a good starting point.

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