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This is a documentary of 'drag nights' among New York's underclass. Queens are interviewed and observed preparing for and competing in many 'balls'. The people, the clothes, and the whole environment are outlandish. Written by
Robbie Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A young Pepper LaBeija can be seen very briefly as a contestant in the 1968 documentary The Queen, about a drag beauty pageant held in New York City. The legendary Crystal LaBeija, original mother and founder of the House of LaBeija, is also featured giving a fierce and shady reading. See more »
I always had hopes of being a big star. But as you get older, you aim a little lower. Everybody wants to make an impression, some mark upon the world. Then you think, you've made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name. Then you've left a mark. You don't have to bend the whole world. I think it's better to just enjoy it. Pay your dues, and just enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.
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Documentary starts in 1986 in NYC where black and hispanic drag queens hold "balls". That's where they dress up however they like, strut their stuff in front of an audience and are voted on. We get to know many of the members and see how they all hold together and support each other. As one man says to another--"You have three strikes against you--you're black, gay and a drag queen". These are people who (sadly) are not accepted in society--only at the balls. There they can be whoever and whatever they want and be accepted. Then the film cuts to three years later (1989) and you see how things have changed (tragically for some).
Sounds depressing but it's not. Most of the people interviewed are actually very funny and get a lot of humor out of their situations. They're well aware of their position in society and accept it with humor--just as they should. We find out they all live in "houses" run by various "mothers" and all help each other out. The sense of community in this film is fascinating.
When this film came out in 1990 it was controversial--and a big hit. It won Best Documentary Awards at numerous festivals--but was never even nominated for an Academy Award. Their reason was "Black and hispanic drag queens are not Academy material". Fascinating isn't it? Homophobia and racism all together.
Seen today it's still a great film--and a period piece. It just isn't like that anymore--the NY they show no longer exists. The balls are still held but not in the spirit we see here. Also drag has become more "accepted" in society (for better or worse). And I've heard the houses are gone too. That's kind of sad. I WOULD like to know where these characters are now--I know two died of AIDS but I have no idea about the others. And what DID happen to that 13 year old and 15 year old shown?
Still, it a one of a kind documentary--fascinating, funny and riveting. A must see all the way! A definite 10. Where's the DVD???
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