Gayphemera, II: To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar

The history and the culture that has built the present lifestyle of gay men is both deep and beautiful and very deserving of our digging through it. Gayphemera hopes to educate and explore the cultural players, performers, and projects that defined us then and now. In this installment, we explore the film To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar.

How should a gay film not necessarily made by gay people be received? For the most part, they should be received with open arms. We’re all in this together, you know? Thus, celebrate everyone as long as they aren’t projecting homophobia or hate onto anyone else (in which case, fuck that shit). To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar is one of those somewhat divisive films—and truly is a gay cult classic.

This tension of it being a “gay film” is mostly from the three (terrific) lead actors: Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo star as three drag queens (Vida Boheme, Noxeema Jackson, Chi-Chi Rodriguez). None of them are gay and none of their characters identify as not gay. Yet, a gay man—Douglas Carter Beane—wrote the script and it was directed by a lauded female director—Beeban Kidron.

Does that balance out this equation? It seems to, yes: not only is the film about acceptance and love and embracing your inner queerness, the film features an incredible roster of LGBT persons and advocates. Mostly making appearances in an early, mainstream, New York drag performance scene, you have big names like RuPaul (as a queen brilliantly named “Rachel Tension”), Lady Bunny, Coco Peru, and Hedda Lettuce amongst more obscure, somewhat historical figures like trans performer Lady Catiria, iconic writer Quentin Crisp, and performance artist Joey Arias. Those all legitimize the film.

The film is also a fuck ton of fun. It’s catchy and silly and heartwarming and camp, camp, campy. The story follows the three queens travelling across the country, from New York to Los Angeles, for the Miss Drag Queen Of America contest. Hijinks ensue. Near hate crimes also ensue. Stockard Channing plays a lonely housewife who is a victim of abuse. Gwenyth Paltrow’s mom falls in love with the only black man in a small town. Naomi Campbell tells Noxeema Jackson that she wishes she was “as beautiful” as she is.

The film is somehow lost in the nineties, a relic that is destined to be dug up by teens via Netflix or Amazon and given new life a la The Brady Movie. It’s a great little film and is particularly reflective of mainstream nineties gay culture (and, yes, it feels both a bit more fluffy and more raw than The Birdcage, another classic). The film will never be a part of the Criterion collection or ever get any high praise—but it is a must watch in terms of work produced about, by, and for LGBT persons. You also get to see both Bodhi and Blade in dresses.

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