Ten Things To Watch To Broaden Your Horizons #LockdownEditions

What are you watching under lockdown?

By: Mikhail Yakovlev

Today, many – who are we kidding, most – people around the world live under some kind of lockdown or quarantine. At MDI, we wanted to help our community relax in this trying time by putting together a list of ten films and TV series that explore the intersections of different identities that you can watch while we wait until we can go out again.

While we love big diversity hits like Jennie Livingstone’s classic Paris Is Burning and Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite, we wanted to introduce you to recent films and series from countries and/or about issues that often escape worldwide media attention. Right now, is not the time to travel. But, it’s the perfect time to stray off your beaten cinematic path.


  1. Rafiki [Friend] (2018)
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This “risk-taking lesbian romance banned in Kenya,” second feature “from Wanuri Kahiu deserves to be seen, especially in its home nation” – raves BFI’s Amy Taubin. We certainly agree. “Kenya’s first film at Cannes” is based on ‘Jambula Tree’, an award-winning short story by the Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko. Transposed to a housing estate in Nairobi, Rafiki shows two teenage girls (Kena and Ziki) fall in love against the backdrop of societal homophobia. But, this film avoids unfair stereotypes of Africa as backwards and uncivilised. A secondary storyline, centred on the protagonists’ fathers, provides a glimpse of progressive grassroots organising against Kenya’s out-of-touch politicians.

  • Ixcanul [Volcano] (2015)
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Jayro Bustamante’s Kaqchikel-language debut is an understated feminist masterpiece about a Mayan family in a village on the slopes of an active volcano in Guatemala. The daughter Maria (is the symbolism of the name intentional?) has been promised in marriage to the manager of the coffee plantation where her parents work. But, she is secretly dating Pepe – the village bad boy – who gets her pregnant. First, her traditional community ostracize Maria. Things change when she gets bitten by a deadly snake… Lingering shots of beautiful but deadly nature provide a suitable backdrop to this tragedy.

John Trengove’s Inxeba [The Wound](2017) is another brilliant film exploring the intersections of transgressive sexuality, socio-economic inequality and cultural survival.

  • და ჩვენ ვიცეკვეთ [And Then We Danced] (2019)
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In ultra-conservative Georgia, desire between two men remains strictly taboo. And so longing throbs like a sickness in small, unacknowledged gestures like the careful folding of a would-be lover’s T-shirt or a juicy, bleeding pomegranate (recalling, perhaps, Call Me By Your Name’s peach). Luca Guadagnino’s queer romance might seem like a reference point, but that film’s swanky Italian villa is a world away from Mehrab’s, with his precarious restaurant job and out-of-credit mobile phone. Here, the stakes are higher, and so the romance sweeter.” There’s not much we can add to Simran Hans’s review of Levan Akin’s feature. Expect tender sensuality, disturbing performances of machismo and a sappy visual introduction to the Caucasus country of Georgia!

While this former-Soviet Republic remains relatively unknown, it has a rich and unique cinematic heritage. The country’s ragged mountains and medieval monasteries provide some of the setting for the Georgian actress Sofiko Chiaureli’s gender-trouble [IM1] performance in Նռան գույնը/ՍայաթՆովա [The Colour of Pomegranates/Sayat Nova] (1968), the cult Armenian feature from Sergei Parajanov. For an intimate exploration of gender (and economic) issues in Georgia today, see Salomé[IM2]  Alexi’s კრედიტის ლიმიტი [Line of Credit] (2014).

  • Much Loved [Zin Li Fik] (2015)
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French-born director of Moroccan and Tunisian-Jewish descent, Nabil Ayouch’s drama set in Marrakech tackles a number of thorny issues head on – prostitution, exploitation of sex workers by pimps, Morocco’s sex tourism industry, police corruption and homosexuality. Screened at Cannes and Toronto Film Festival, winning the Best French-language Film Award at the Lumieres Film Festival, this film was banned in Morocco for undermining “the moral values and dignity of Moroccan women as well as all the image of Morocco.” We think that the film was really banned for humanising sex workers, on one hand, and, on the other, highlighting the failure of Moroccan authorities to protect women’s rights, ensure Moroccans have job opportunities and, crucially, to stem sex tourism – a big source of income for King Mohammed VI’s coffers.  

Fatih Akin’s German-Turkish feature Auf der anderen Seite/Yaşamın Kıyısında [The Edge of Heaven] (2007) explores similar issues in the context of another MENA country – Turkey.

  • 一念無明 [Mad World] (2016)
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Dubbed “the Hollywood of Asia”, Hong Kong rivalled Europe and the US when it came to cinema through the 70s, 80s and 90s – from Bruce Li thrillers to Wong Kar-wai’s “bitter” gay classic Happy Together [春光乍洩] (1997) and Tsui Hark’s Peking Opera Blues [刀馬旦] (1986), beloved by Quentin Tarrantino (for better or for worse). In the noughties, HK slipped off most cinephiles’ radar just as PRC, Bollywood and South Korean cinema grew dominant.

Today, HK film industry is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance driven by “independent film-makers.” Wong Chung’s Mad World plays an important part in this revival. Shot on location, this low budget feature won numerous international awards, not in the least thanks to Florence Chan’s meticulous screenplay. Poverty, insane subdivided flats, gender roles in the family and mental illness are all central themes of this drama that “offers an alternative look at life in Hong Kong”. Other independent HK production we recommend are Jun Li’s Tracey [翠絲] (2018), a tender drama about a 51-year-old father “who finally admits to himself and others he is a transgender woman,” and Ray Yeung’s 叔.叔  [Suk Suk] (2018) – “Hong Kong’s best new drama,” according to some.

TV Series

  1. Unorthodox (2020)
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This buzzy Netflix Originals mini-series debuted on 26th March this year and is loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 bestseller memoir, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. This bittersweet drama explores the touchy issue of women’s status and bodily autonomy in Hassidic Judaism. Like Feldman, the series protagonist Esther “Esty” Shapiro rebels against her strict Orthodox Jewish community and flees Brooklyn (and her arranged marriage) for the freedom of Berlin after learning that she’s pregnant. Watch The Making of Unorthodox to learn more about Feldman and young Israeli actors who play Esther and her husband, Yankee.

If features are more your jam, check-out Sebastian Lelio’s Disobedience (2017). Starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as former childhood lovers from a North London Orthodox Jewish community, this film explores similar issues.

  • Conq (2014)
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Lucky Kuswandi’s pioneering Indonesian web-series tackles near-taboo issues –the AIDS stigma faced by LGBT+ Indonesians, sex work and the complicated intersections of religion, ethnicity and socio-economic status in Indonesian society – through the story of an unlikely friendship between Lukas (an affluent university professor) and Timo (a volunteer at a community-run HIV test centre). Accessible free of charge on Viddsee, Conq shines a light on a community that often gets censored in Indonesia and is erased from US-centric global media.

Singapore-based Viddsee was conceived precisely “to create a gateway for great short films” by independent South East Asian directors. Check out other LGBT+ content Viddsee has to offer. Fans of the LGBT+ web-series will also love NRK’s Skam [Shame] (2015-2017), “the world’s realest show about high school, and also its most important”, and Addicted (2015), a drama about step brothers who fall in love set in Beijing.

  • Kim’s Convenience (2016-2020)
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Is this the ultimate feel-good Asian diaspora comedy? We certainly think it just might be. First aired in October 2016, Ins Choi’s CBC sitcom packs so many punches you are guaranteed to be laughing all the way. To add, the alpha jock character Jung (played by the handsome Chinese-Canadian comedian Simu Liu) is easy on the eyes. But, don’t be fooled. Kim’s Convenience is not just another run-of-the-mill family sitcom. The show uses comedy to challenge our views on diversity, migration, sexuality and family relationships. Elliot Sang, NYC-based arts and media commentator of mixed Latinx and Chinese descent, credits Liu with destroying racist representations of Asian men as weak and emasculated, which are hegemonic on North American screens. And, the best part? You can binge all four seasons of the show on Netflix!

  • Gentefied (2020)

Gentefied tells the story of a multi-generational Mexican family trying desperately to survive in their rapidly gentrifying barrio of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, California. Rising rents, bankruptcy, racism, homophobia and, even, deportation are everyday threats for the Morales. Full of sassy fast-pace dialogue in Spanish, the show’s Season 1 was an instant success with viewers – here’s to hoping, Netflix renews it for another season.

  • Le Bazar de la Charité [The Bonfire of Destiny](2019)
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This high-profile collaboration between TVF1 and Netflix is the only historical drama on our list. Created by Catherine Ramberg and Karin Spreuzkouski, this show is based on the fatal fire at the 1897 Charity Bazaar in Paris, “one of the biggest fires in the 19th century” with “131 victims, mostly women” – including the sister of Empress Sisi of Austria-Hungary, who would be assassinated less than a year later in Switzerland. This mini-series exposes the ingrained sexism, classicism and economic inequality of Belle Epoque [IM3] Europe through a fictionalised account of three women who survive the fire. What’s more, the series is a cinematic tour-de-force – “3000 extras, 1500 costumes, 185 technicians and over 100 carriages being used to film it.”

What are your favourites? Tweet us, @MDI_UK or hit us up on Instagram @mediadiversityinstitute to let us know.