9 LGBTQIA+ Icons You Didn’t Know Were Critics

From James Baldwin and Susan Sontag to Roxane Gay and Ryan Murphy – learn more about these queer advocates, authors, and entertainment stars who count “film and television critic” among their many credits.

by and | May 31, 2024 | Comments


In honor of Pride, Rotten Tomatoes is highlighting LGBTQIA+ voices in our Pride Month hub. As part of the celebration, we’re spotlighting some of the work our Archival Curation team does to bring more LGBTQIA+ critics and publications from history onto the Tomatometer.

LGBTQ+ people are everywhere — our family members, teammates, and the icons who inspire us to be our fullest, most disruptive, and most compassionate selves. The culture-makers celebrated in this article include major producers, prolific authors, and loud advocates for queer folks’ abilities to exist proudly in public. Their laurels range from awards recognition to poignant places in the queer canon, but they all have one thing in common: They love and wrote passionately about the movies!

Each of these figures from the past and the present is a testament to our longevity and complexity — to the truths that we deserve to exist, to have our stories told, and to live outside the boundaries that attempt to limit us.

B. Ruby Rich

(Photo by Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.)

The author of New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut and Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Movement, B. Ruby Rich is an icon of film criticism. She coined the term “New Queer Cinema” in 1992 to describe the rise in visibility for queer films at festivals like Sundance, where she held the first panel dedicated specifically to queerness.

“The new queer films and videos aren’t all the same,” Rich wrote — nor are they the first LGBTQ+ stories ever told on screen — but they are “nonetheless united by a common style… appropriation and pastiche, irony, as well as a reworking of history… Above all, they’re full of pleasure. They’re here, they’re queer, get hip to them.”

By spotlighting independent releases and charting the history of queer movies, Rich made (and continues to make) queerness visible. She draws attention to lineages of queer storytelling and subcultures. She holds space for dual truths: that queer people belong, and that there is euphoria to be found in shared otherness, in spoiling the norms.

Rich continues to write reviews and essays, is the Editor-at-Large of Film Quarterly (the oldest film journal in America), and is Professor Emerita of Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz. In 2012, she was awarded the Frameline Award for her remarkable contributions to LGBTQ+ representation.

84% Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Fresh: “If, in the end, Mulholland Drive is too clever by half, no matter. Lynch’s superb command of mise en scène makes his images and situations their own reward, rendering even the simplest gesture creepy and imbuing any innocence with evil.” — The Nation, November 2001

James Baldwin (1924 – 1987)

(Photo by Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.)

James Baldwin was an author, essayist, and cultural critic. His observations about race — Black experiences, whiteness, and how racism underlies every system and informs every social interaction in the United States — are poignant records of history and the present.

Baldwin is the type of writer whose voice echoes in your head while you read his prose, fortified by his presence on television appearances on WGBH and the BBC. Whether in his novels, such as Giovanni’s Room or If Beale Street Could Talk, or his essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time, Baldwin articulates otherness with such deep empathy. Passion, isolation, rage, and love resonate on every page.

While much of Baldwin’s writing was personal, The Devil Finds Work dances between diaristic reflections on his own childhood and sharp critiques of influential movies, including The Defiant Ones (1958), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), and The Exorcist (1973).

78% The Exorcist (1973)

Rotten: “The mindless and hysterical banality of the evil presented in The Exorcist is the most terrifying thing about the film. The Americans should cer­tainly know more about evil than that; if they pre­tend otherwise, they are lying.” — The Devil Finds Work, 1976

James Hannaham

(Photo by Photo by Isaac Fitzgerald, courtesy of James Hannaham.)

James Hannaham is an award-winning author and visual artist. His first novel, God Says No, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist and celebrated by the American Library Association; it follows a young Black Christian man wrestling with love, expectations, queerness, and religion.

He has published three additional novels as well as short fiction and reviewed film for Out Magazine, Salon, and The Village Voice, as a born-and-raised New Yorker. In the 1990s, he cofounded the Elevator Repair Service theater ensemble.

Hannaham’s 2015 novel Delicious Foods was celebrated with a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and a PEN/Faulkner Award. He is a professor of Creative Writing at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

94% Three Kings (1999)

Fresh: “[David O.] Russell’s manic vision of modern warfare and slice-up critique of American foreign policy even provide something Kubrick sometimes lacked — a sense of humor.” — Out Magazine, October 1999

Jeanne Córdova (1948 – 2016)

(Photo by Photo by Lynn Ballen, courtesy of ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.)

A fierce advocate and prolific author, Jeanne Córdova founded not one but two lesbian magazines in her lifetime: The Lesbian Tide, the first national lesbian paper of record, and Square Peg Magazine. She wrote three books, contributed to more than a dozen anthologies, and founded an LGBT directory called The Community Yellow Pages in 1981.

Córdova dedicated her life to building intersectional spaces in the LGBTQ+ community. She organized online and marched to advocate for lesbian, butch, feminist, and Latina visibility — and documented that fight in her magazines, as well as her 2011 memoir When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution. Her journalistic and personal writing reflect an essential record of queer life.

With her memoirs, “Córdova illumines what it was to be young and lesbian at a time when there were no models except the ones we created ourselves,” wrote Victoria Brownworth, journalist and friend of Córdova’s, in her obituary for Lambda Literary.

80% Cleopatra Jones (1973)

Rotten: “Take your $3.00 and go buy some sticks and poster board and stand outside and picket. That’s the only potentially feminist contribution of Cleopatra Jones.” — The Lesbian Tide, September 1973

Malinda Lo

(Photo by Photo courtesy of Malinda Lo.)

Malinda Lo is an advocate and award-winning author of young adult novels. She got her start as a contributor for an online lesbian-centric culture magazine and later contributed to Curve magazine. Lo founded Diversity in YA in 2011 to celebrate intersectional storytelling and advocate for stories featuring characters of color, characters with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ characters. Her first novel, Ash, reimagines Cinderella as a lesbian teenager who falls in love with the King’s huntress.

Inspired by the 1950s lesbian bars near Chinatown in San Francisco, Lo wrote the historical novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club. It follows Lily, the teenage daughter of Chinese immigrants, as she explores her identity and community and discovers drag king culture. Last Night at the Telegraph Club won the National Book Award, the Stonewall Book Award, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Its follow-up, A Scatter of Light, takes place decades later, when same-sex marriage was legalized in California.

Lo is a fervent advocate against book bans, which have targeted several of her works since 2021.

64% Red Doors (2005)

Fresh: “It is a new kind of Asian-American film, one that doesn’t deal with immigrant identity issues but focuses instead on how these damaged individuals come to terms with each other and their imperfect, but loving, family.” — Curve, September 2006

Quentin Crisp (1908-1999)

(Photo by Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.)

Perhaps known equally for vibrancy and prickliness, Quentin Crisp was an artist, actor, and author. Crisp’s wardrobe was theatrical — colorful scarves, dramatic curls — buoyed by thick eyeliner and sharp brows that exaggerated expressive eyes. Among Crisp’s film credits are roles as a Pageant Judge in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and Queen Elizabeth I in Orlando, as well as cameos in Philadelphia and Sting’s “Englishman in New York” music video (later dedicated to Crisp).

In an autobiography published in 2017 titled The Last Word, Crisp identified as transgender publicly for the first time: “I never came ‘out’ as transgender or gay because I was never ‘in’ and I’ve never known anything except the life I have.”

Crisp was inspirational for generations of gender-nonconforming LGBTQ+ people and holds a significant place in LGBTQ+ history for living loudly despite regular threats of violence. John Hurt, Boy George, and Rob Halford have cited Crisp as an influence on their work.

80% The Client (1994)

Fresh: “The film is hideously colored. The mere look of it sets the mood. It only gets darker as danger increases, and everyone becomes more deliciously beastly. I loved every minute of it.” — Christopher Street, November 1994

Roxane Gay

(Photo by Photo by Reginald Cunningham, courtesy of Roxane Gay.)

Roxane Gay is a prolific cultural critic and award-winning author. Among her laurels is an Eisner Award for her comic book series Black Panther: World of Wakanda, a Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Literature honoring Hunger, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, to name a few.

Gay’s works confront the intersections of gender, race, sexuality, autonomy, and — to use her words — “unruly bodies.” Her nonfiction works include the best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist and her deeply moving memoir Hunger, as well as columns for Guardian and more recently the New York Times. She edited the anthology titled Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, authored a short fiction anthology titled Difficult Women, and her first book was a novel called An Untamed State. She is a visiting professor at Yale University.

65% Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Fresh:Magic Mike XXL is Oscar worthy, especially for sound design and the shameless exposure of taut male abdominal muscles.” — The Toast, July 2015

Ryan Murphy

(Photo by Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.)

Before helming some of the most influential television series of the 21st century, Ryan Murphy was a journalist who reviewed movies for the Miami Herald. He launched his television career by co-creating and co-producing the teen dramedy series Popular, followed by the medical drama Nip/Tuck, which earned Murphy his first Emmy nomination.

Murphy is the creator of Glee, moments from which are no-doubt inspired by his teenage years spent at choir practice. Glee was a phenomenon for theatre kids, and while somewhat controversial, it remains a staple for representing stories of LGBTQ+ youth on broadcast television.

Alongside Steven Canals and Brad Falchuk, Murphy co-created the FX drama series Pose, which follows the New York City ballroom culture in the 1980s and ‘90s — a subculture where Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities form chosen families, perform, and care for each other. The series was a landmark in trans storytelling and AIDS visibility, earning numerous Emmy nominations and two wins for stars Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and Billy Porter.

75% Music Box (1989)

Fresh: “[Jessica] Lange without angst is like Tyson without punch. She’s the era’s Sarah Bernhardt, a tragedienne with soignee soul. In Music Box… Lange is at her furrowed-brow best.” — Miami Herald, January 1990

Susan Sontag (1933 – 2004)

(Photo by Photo courtesy of the Everett Collection.)

Susan Sontag was a cultural critic, author, and public intellectual. Her 1964 essay “Notes on Camp” remains an influential framework through which explicitly and implicitly queer-coded performances are understood in American culture. In Sontag’s view, “camp” could be an aesthetic and stylistic (as much about a character’s outfit as it might be about their delivery and mannerisms) approach that exaggerates — and thereby draws attention to — whatever is considered “normal.” She wrote about politics (as well as a-politicism), style, visual cultures, and their social implications.

In addition to her writing, Sontag was an anti-war activist, vocally opposed the Vietnam War. In 2003, she published Regarding the Pain of Others, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. The book traces the history of war photography and the influences that violent imagery have on a society’s capacity for empathy (or lack thereof).

94% Berlin Alexanderplatz: Season 1

Fresh: “In Berlin Alexanderplatz, cinema, that hybrid art, has at last achieved some of the dilatory, open form and accumulative power of the novel by being as long as it is — and by being theatrical.” – Vanity Fair, September 1983

A special thank you to Tim Ryan, who enthusiastically lead curation and research with for this and all of Rotten Tomatoes’ Archival Pride features since 2018. “Everybody to the limit!”

Thank you to James Hannaham, Malinda Lo, and Roxane Gay for providing their photographs and for their willingness to be included. Thank you to ONE Archives at the USC Libraries and the Córdova Estate for sharing Jeanne Córdova’s photograph. Thank you to JSTOR, the Curve Archives,,, and the Vanity Fair Archives.

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