October 31, 2020

The history of drag on screen: Strutting from ancient times to CBC’s Queens


From ancient Greek and Roman cultures to Japan’s Kabuki tradition, through to Shakespearean times, it was a common theatre practice for men to impersonate women in plays, while women were boxed into homebound subservience and legally restricted from performing on stage — mainly because of theatre’s strong links to church and the religious beliefs which had rules that informed social norms and viewed women as inferior.

With minor exceptions in the 17th century when opera emerged in musical theatre, it was the 19th century, and the rise of popularity of vaudeville and burlesque, when women started to gain ground in theatre — however at first, only in comedic roles impersonating men. Men, on the other hand, continued to perform in drag for comedic or shock value.

A satirical photo from 1901 of a woman in knickers smoking a cigarette and looking at a man doing laundry in a dress, with the caption: “New Woman — Wash Day”. (The United States Library of Congress’s, Prints and Photographs division.)

Today, drag is popular and celebrated thanks to important human rights movements and events that have taken place, with shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race bringing drag to the mainstream. 

CBC’s show Queens is taking the torch further in the evolution of drag and contributing to pop culture’s group mindset shift toward a more accepting one, inclusive of drag, gender fluidity and gender-neutral self expression.

In our conversation with the cast of Queens, Geoffrey Gough (a.k.a Ivory Towers) who plays Shoshanna, Murphy Longley (Quick Lewinsky) who plays Mooney, Reid Millard (Allysin Chaynes) who plays Naomi and Lucinda Miu who plays Minnie, we discussed the history of drag on screen and their journey in it.

(The cast of Queens, from left to right: Lucinda Miu, Quick Lewinsky, Allysin Chaynes and Ivory Towers.)

Etymology of drag

The term drag is believed to have originated in British theatre slang to describe men wearing women’s clothes in the 19th century — dresses that would trail / drag on the floor. And according to a 2008 book Languages and Cultures in Contrast and Comparison, the first recorded instance of the term in connection with drag culture was in 1870.

As explained on the website National Center of Transgender Equality, drag has since evolved as a gender-bending art form in which artists and entertainers, regardless of gender, dress up and apply makeup in highly stylized ways in order to exaggerate a specific, often different than their own, gender identity.

For many, drag is a self-expression as well as a celebration or exploration of gender. As RuPaul Andre Charles famously stated in his Drag Race show:

We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag.– RuPaul

“What that means is that a businessman who goes to work and puts on a suit and his tie, that’s his drag. That’s his costume to, kind of, tell the world who he is,” says costume designer and CBC Queens cast member, Lucinda Miu.

“A lot of people assume that [drag] is female impersonation for drag queens and male impersonation for drag kings but I think that assumes a limited scope of what masculine or feminine or man and woman can look like,” adds Murphy Longley (Quick Lewinsky).

“As part of LGBTQ+ community we know that man and woman and anywhere in between can look like all manner of things. It’s kind of like a galaxy as far as gender identity is concerned.

I feel like drag is essentially playing with gender or exploring ideas of gender but not limited to an impersonation.”

Geoffrey Gough (Ivory Towers) agrees: “Drag is just an expression of one’s selves. Whether it’s an amplified version of yourself or something completely different, it’s just a form of expression open to all genders, races and ages.”

TIMELINE

Here are some of the crucial movies, events and personalities which have contributed to bringing the art of drag to the mainstream and what it is today.

1904 – Mr. Wix of Wickham

Julian Eltinge’s first musical comedy performance on Broadway’s, Mr. Wix of Wickham, led to some of the first representations of cross-dressing on screen.

Essentially the RuPaul of the early 20th century, he was a famous female impersonator from Massachusetts who started cross-dressing in his teens (early 1800s), eventually reaching stardom at par with today’s society. And unlike many female impersonators of his time, personas presented in his acts were of actual women rather than a comedic representation of them. His ability to embody a woman to the point where people thought he was one was what fascinated the audiences but also had them wonder about his sexual preferences.

His Mr. Wix of Wickham performance garnered him critical acclaim and subsequently more gigs headlining within the vaudeville circuit which ultimately allowed him to tour the US and Europe — eventually resulting in an invitation from Windsor Castle to perform for King Edward VII of England, in 1906. 

Then newly incorporated Hollywood (1903) noticed and shortly after Eltinge was cast in silent movies like 1914’s The Crinoline Girl followed by Cousin Lucy the next year. Eltinge’s first real success followed with a silent comedy film.

1917 – The Countess Charming

Julian Eltinge and Mrs. George Kuwa in the silent motion picture The Countess Charming; from the digital collection from New York Public Library. (Photographed by Avery Willard.)

Eltinge’s first feature film — and what appears to be the first representation of drag on screen — saw him dressed as a female, impersonating a Russian countess, in order to be close to his love interest Betty.

An excerpt from a 1917 newspaper, The Calgary Daily Herald. (The Calgary Daily Herald online archive.)

Capitalizing on his notoriety of performing in drag, Eltinge followed with more movies such as The Widow’s Might (1918) and Madame Behave (1925).

1920s – The rise of ball culture spurs Pansy Craze

The Roaring ’20s, an era of flapper dancers, saw drag balls (competition-style performances that include lip syncing, dancing and modelling believed to have originated in New York with the infamous masquerade balls, held in Harlem in 1869) rise in popularity and with it more and more people started to came out. As a result, drag became more closely associated with the LGBTQ+ community. 

This was also a period when drag started to transition into an underground scene in every European capital, and several major US cities. This carried into the early ’30s, largely because of Prohibition as it provided a safe place for LGBTQ+ people to convene, making it the beginning of LGBTQ+ nightlife called the Pansy Craze.

The Pansy Craze saw drag performers such as Ray Bourbon, Bruz Fletcher and and openly gay Gene Malin (stage name Jean Malin) become some of the biggest and brightest stars of the scene — some of which were cast in big Hollywood films.

1933 – The end of Pansy Craze

The Pansy Craze ended with the repeal of prohibition but movies representing drag continued to be made — at least for a little while.

Arizona to Broadway

Max Wagner, Jean Malin and J. Carrol Naish in Arizona to Broadway. (1933)

An American pre-Code crime romance came out in July in which a famous ‘Pansy Craze’ drag performer, Gene Malin, portraying a female impersonator Ray Best who dresses like Mae West. The screenplay was later reworked into Laurel and Hardy 1940s feature film, Jitterbugs.

Malin, who was considered camp drag, died shortly after and signaled the end of the short lived Pansy Craze (1930-33). 

Victor and Victoria

The same year in December, Germany released a musical comedy film about drag queens working in entertainment. The movie became a big hit with the audience and was subsequently released in French with a French cast the following year. Victor and Victoria was also remade a number of times including again in Germany in 1957 under the same name. 

In 1935, Britain released as First a Girl and in the US in 1982 it was titled Victor/Victoria, starring Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins).

1934 – Hollywood’s Hays Code drives drag back underground in North America, but Europe is not phased

A set of industry moral guidelines for censorship of content were applied in 1930 to most US films released by major studios, and rigidly enforced from 1934 until 1968 under the name of the Motion Picture Production Code also known as the Hays Code — after Will H. Hays, who was the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America.

The Production Code outlined what was acceptable and unacceptable in film production. Profanity, sexual relations outside marriage and any sexual act including suggestion of same sex relationships or romance, were ruled out and therefore impersonating gender opposite one’s own was also outlawed. 

New York followed with a ban of female impersonation in 1935.

Canada, on the other hand, had no strict rules but did follow advice from the British Board of Film Censors in the early years of film and television and in the 1920s, Ontario censorship board did object to content such as illicit sexual relationships, nudity, etc.

1937The first Polish drag film, starring Eugeniusz Bodo 

Eugeniusz Bodo wrote and directed the movie, Piętro wyżej, which became his best known film.

Note – Bodo appears at 1:50 minute mark.

1940s – Heavy policing and stigmatization of drag culture

The war and post war era saw the rise of masculinity and the general public started to attack everything that was considered non-normative behaviour. TV and movies reflected a society that reinforced and strengthened a more conservative mindset and family values, while drag representation was sidelined and explicitly used for comic relief with a few exceptions.

1941 – All-American Co-ed

Noah Beery Jr. and Johnny Downs in All-American Co-Ed. (1941)

A wartime comedy but a civilian theme, starring Johnny Downs, follows a young man in college who gets accepted as a contestant in a beauty contest run by an all female school.

Though there is cross-dressing, it was known that the role of a man in a woman’s clothing was used as a disguise for a specific purpose.

1948 – Canada made changes to the Criminal Code 

The changes in the Criminal Code followed what was happening in the U.S. and deemed LGBTQ+ community “criminal sexual psychopaths” and “dangerous sexual offenders,” which allowed for long prison sentences.

1950s – Canada employs the “fruit machine”

Subsequently, Frank Robert Wake developed a device which was thought could identify homosexuality, called the “fruit machine.” It was a test that was used in a campaign to eliminate and imprison all LGBTQ+ people from civil service which resulted in substantial job loss and imprisonment for what they called “gross indecency.” (Sarah Fodey’s 2018 documentary profiles people whose lives and careers were affected by the device.)

At the same time, south of the border, police began cracking down on LGBTQ+ friendly establishments and started enforcing anti-cross-dressing laws such as in New York men being legally obligated to wear no less than three male clothing pieces in order not get arrested for being in drag — after which movies representing drag were not socially accepted and ceased to be made.

As a result, only some cross-dressing roles (mostly men playing women) were featured in movies in the ’50s but drag representation was not allowed in film until later in the decade with the exception of a few highly publicised deviations.

1952 – The world’s first successful sex reassignment surgery inspires a docudrama

Though the first sex reassignment surgery was first performed on Lili Elbe in Germany in the early 1930s, Christine Jorgensen, a transgender woman from the Bronx, New York, received the world’s first successful sex reassignment surgery in Denmark that included a hormone therapy. It was a highly publicised affair which prompted producer George Weiss to commission director Ed Wood to make an exploitation docudrama inspired by Jorgensen’s transition. But things didn’t work out the way they envisioned.

1953 – Glen or Glenda

The semi-autobiographical docudrama about cross-dressing and transsexuality was released four months after Jorgensen’s procedure hit the mainstream media at the time.

The film was originally developed as a fictionalized story of Christine Jorgensen’s sexual reassignment surgery but when she refused a number of offers to appear in the film, Wood decided to write a new script about his own struggle with being a closet transgender person and someone who would go out in public dressed in drag under an alter ego named Shirley. He used stock film footage about sexual reassignment surgery.

1954 – Jorgensen appears on screen as herself

She debuts and is well received on Broadway in Cherie De Paris (The Darling of Paris), a “Gay Parisian Revue” at the Latin Quarter nightclub.

1957 – After the Ball

A British biographical film commemorating the life of a stage performer Vesta Tilley (Matilda Alice Powles), one of the most famous and highest-earning women and male impersonators of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Matilda Alice Powles, left, and in character as Vesta Tilley, right.

1959 – Some Like It Hot 

As sexual revolution was challenging traditional codes of conduct, an American romantic comedy, directed and produced by Billy Wilder, starring Marilyn Monroe alongside Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon featured the idea of homosexuality and cross-dressing. And despite contradicting and breaking the rules of the Hays Code, the movie became an enormous success, receiving six Academy Award nominations.

Though the Hays Code was still officially enforced when Some Like It Hot was released, the code began to weaken a few years prior due to a cocktail of reasons including influences from foreign films. Some Like It Hot seems to have delivered the last blow in its demise and opened the doors for more on-screen representation of drag in the coming years.

1965 – The Imperial Court System

Anti-LGBTQ+ hostility persisted throughout the ’60s and as it intensified in 1965, the Imperial Court System was founded — a grassroots network of organizations that worked to build a community between drag queens that ultimately proved to be an imperative resource within the broader LGBTQ+ community. Today it’s known as one of the oldest and largest LGBTQ+ organizations in the world.

1968 – The death of the Hays Code

After several years of minimal enforcement, the Production Code was replaced by the The Motion Picture Association (MPA) film rating system, which is in effect still today.

The Queen

Movies about what drag is and the experiences of people doing drag started to surface and a U.S. documentary about Jack, a 24-year-old gay man living in New York, who works as a drag queen named Sabrina gets released in ’68. The film depicts the experiences of the female illusionists organizing and participating in the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest held at New York City’s Town Hall.

A year later, it was released in France, Denmark, Netherlands and Finland. 

1969 – Stonewall riots lead to the inception of the gay liberation movement

However, stigmatization of drag continued and the community-incited protests and riots around the world and in major American cities such as San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and most notably in New York called the Stonewall riots, a series of demonstrations by the LGBTQ+ community in response to police brutality at the Stonewall Inn hotel in Manhattan, New York. 

Within a few years, many organizations for equality were established and cult movies and films around the world representing true drag culture followed. 

The Stonewall riots are considered to be the most important events that led to the gay liberation movement and today, the month of June is celebrated as Pride month to mark the Stonewall riots. In Canada, Pride month commemorates the riots that happened later in the decade after an event which is outlined further in the timeline.

Bara no Sōretsu (Funeral Parade of Roses)

A movie about an underground drag culture of 1960s Tokyo came out in Japan and a year later in the U.S. 

1970 – Canada’s first sex reassignment surgery

The first woman in Canada to undergo a sex reassignment surgery talked to CBC in 1972.

CBC host Margo Lane interviews the first woman in Canada to make a surgical transition from male to female in 1972. 11:01

1971 – Bill C-150 changes the Criminal Code in Canada

With the neighbouring country’s riots starting to bring about major changes, Canada — under the 15th Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau — decriminalized ‘homosexual acts’ performed in private by passing a legislation that was intended to bring Canada to a “contemporary society.” Trudeau himself introduced the Omnibus bill C-15 in 1967 when he was still Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada.

There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.– Pierre Trudeau

Trudeau defends the sexual practices of Canadians, uttering the statement that made him famous. 2:21

The same year Canada saw the first gay rights march take place in Ottawa.

1972 – Movies, shows, documentaries and more movies

Some of the cult drag movies were made in the ’70s after a set of events outlined in the timeline above took place and with it began the progression of drag into the mainstream.

Coming out

Many firsts followed including this first Canadian television documentary and interview series profiling LGBTQ+ people living in Toronto which aired on a cable community channel — hosted by Paul Pearce and Sandra Dick of the Community Homophile Association of Toronto that formed the same year out of University of Toronto in order to support the LGBTQ+ community.

The same year, Manitoba became the first Canadian province to fully adopt classification and abandon traditional censorship in film.

Pink Flamingos

Directed, written, produced, narrated, filmed, and edited by John Waters, Pink Flamingos — a movie with a tagline, “An exercise in poor taste” about a woman who claims to be “the filthiest person alive” — was one of his best known films which saw drag queen, Divine (Glenn Milstead), rise to stardom.

Prior to Pink Flamingos, Divine appeared in drag in a number of Waters’ short movies and went on to act in many theatre plays and movies including in 1981’s Polyester where she played an actual woman. She also inspired the famous Disney character, The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula.

What is interesting says CBC Queens’ Reid is that Divine is in drag the entire movie, “It’s very obvious that it’s a drag queen but at no point is it referenced that this person gets up, puts on makeup and puts on a wig.” 

1975 – The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The camp classic horror movie about a transgender scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) was released first in the UK and a month later in the United States. The film which is based on a successful musical play, introduced drag to many including the cast of CBC show Queens.

“It’s inherently a drag movie but Rocky Horror doesn’t really hold your hand in describing what drag is, it just shows you. It presents you with an essence and a mood and a vibe but doesn’t really go, ‘This is what drag is.’ I think that is kind of a more successful approach when you’re looking for media that’s not coddling an audience,” says Reid. 

“I know that a lot of the young people don’t see the hype [in this movie] or think that it’s problematic in the way it talks about trans people or poeple who are non-binary, but at the time, they were doing it in quite a respectful way. The language that they used was the accepted language at that time,” says Longley.

He adds that given that it was released in the pre-internet era, it was a validating film. 

“A fantastic escape and a great way for queer people to see unihibited and even weird representation of self-expression.

It’s so not based in real life that I think it really blows the doors wide open as far as imagining what your weird would look like in that movie… and you would feel like you could belong with that cast of people.”

“In an hour and a half, it was like my whole world was changed. I left the experience of seeing that movie all the way through a completely different human,” said Reid who explains that Mrs. Doubtfire was another movie which was fascinating to him because of Robin Williams’ character’s ability to seamlessly exist in two worlds.

The movie ended up gaining a cult following by mainly the LGBTQ+ community in the early days and later the general public. 

Even the show Glee recreated several scenes from the film, including the opening credits, in 2010’s season two, episode five of the show, called “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”.

1975 – 1977 – All in the Family

Drag queen Lori Shannon (a.k.a Don McLean) appeared in three episodes of the CBS sitcom as drag queen Beverly LaSalle. The role is considered noteworthy for its uncommonly respectful and sympathetic treatment of Beverly as a transgender person.

“It stands out as a piece of queer media because it was very uncommon in the 1970s for drag or cross-dressing or a trans identity, but very much queerness, to be portrayed in a sympathetic or respectful light at all,” says CBC Queens‘ Reid Millard (Allysin Chaynes).

While drag on television was gaining momentum, Starsky and Hutch and Wonder Woman also featured drag queen Charles Pierce. At the same time one of the first gay-themed films gets a mainstream theatrical release for the first time in North America, which is based on a short story written by Margaret Gibson, called Making It.

1977 – Outrageous! 

The film in question is Outrageous! which chronicles Gibson’s time living as drag queen Craig Russell’s roommate. Russell stars as a fictionalized version of himslef, a drag queen called Robin Turner, who is a gay hairdresser that wants to be a drag queen.

“When I saw Outrageous! for the first time, I was like, ‘This is amazing, this is just kind of a drag queen doing her thing.’ And it is very much a drag movie,” says Reid.

“I adore Craig Russell, I have this weird cosmic connection to him where I found out a few years into doing drag myself that he passed away less than 24 hour before I was born, miles away. I have this kind of spirit guide reincarnation with Russell which I really like.”

Subsequently Outrageous! inspired a sequel, Too Outrageous!, which was released 10 years later and about the same time Pierce appeared in another 1987 sitcom, Designing Women.

Also in ’77, the province of Quebec first banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in response to a brutal police raid on a gay bathhouse, Truxx. The raid was highly and widely publicized and threatened the newly elected Parti Québécois’ image as a progressive party. No other province considered sexual orientation a human right, during that time, and it wasn’t until almost a decade later that Ontario followed.

1978 – La Cage Aux Folles

A Franco-Italian comedy about a gay couple who own a nightclub featuring drag entertainment, whose straight son brings home a fiancée and her ultra-conservative parents to meet them. The film was adapted from Jean Poiret’s 1973 play of the same name and to this day remains in the top 15 on the foreign film Billboard chart in America. 

The film had two sequels and in 1996 was remade into an American version titled The Birdcage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. See more info further down the timeline.

1981 – Operation Soap, the Canadian equivalent of the Stonewall riots

Operation Soap, a police raid against four gay bathhouses in Toronto, is considered one of the largest mass arrests in Canada and a turning point in the LGBTQ+ community history, equivalent of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.

1982 – Tootsie

Dustin Hoffman plays a neurotic actor driven to transform himself into a soap queen (Dorothy Michaels, aka Tootsie) in this romantic comedy, directed by Oscar winner Sydney Pollack.

Through his transformation, the character and therefore the audience, gain insights into sexism which opened another window into the everyday treatment and the world of people in the drag community. 

The movie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won one for Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Lang) and became the second most profitable movie that year.

1986 – Changes to the Ontario Human Rights Code

Small steps toward equality were taken as a result of the attention drag was receiving in the media. Sexual orientation was added to the Ontario Human Rights Code as a prohibited ground for discrimination. The country followed over time but Alberta refused to change its code, only joining in 1998 after the Supreme Court order.

1989 – RuPaul emerges on TV

RuPaul’s first notable appearance on TV was as a backup dancer in B-52’s music video, Love Shack.

And a few years later, in 1993, more success came with a hit single “Supermodel (You Better Work)” from his debut album Supermodel of the World

The song catapulted RuPaul to stardom after which he became the first drag queen to ever become a spokesperson for a major cosmetics company (MAC Cosmetics), get his own talk show (on VH1), and a morning radio show (on WKTU).

1990 – Paris is Burning

During the ’80s and ’90s as drag was becoming more popular, it underwent a transformation into a more flattering, polished and glamorous look. 

With that, the documentary Paris is Burning came out, chronicling the ’80s’ New York’s ball culture focusing on elaborately structured ball competitions, voguing and those who gave drag its glam and glitz, ultimately inspiring Madonna’s famous song Vogue.

The ’90s in general made way for a clearer distinctions between drag and the LGBTQ+ spectrum, specifically the awareness between transgender and gay people doing drag.

1993 – M. Butterfly

Well-known directors started to make movies that feature drag including David Cronenberg who directed a romantic drama M. Butterfly written by David Henry Hwang, based on Hwang’s play of the same name which is loosely based on true events. 

The film stars Oscar winner Jeremy Irons in the role of a French diplomat René Gallimard who is infatuated by a Peking opera performer, Song Liling played by Golden Globe nominee John Lone (The Last Emperor). The two engage in a 20-year affair all the while Gallimard is “unaware” that traditionally in Peking opera roles are performed by men.

1994 – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

This Aussie camp comedy, that follows the story of two drag performers and a transgender woman as they travel across the Australian outback to perform their unique style of cabaret, had mostly hired then unknown actors who later went on to appear in hit movies such as Memento and the Matrix trilogy.

1995 – Wigstock: The Movie

Drag became a powerful movement in New York City during the late ’80s and early ’90s, in large part because of its East Village performance scene and products such as the Pyramid Club and the annual Wigstock drag music festival.

Wigstock: The Movie is a documentary film focusing on the festival, showcasing a number of performers and the behind-the-scenes of their rehearsal processes. The soundtrack album also features many of the performers including RuPaul, at the height of his mainstream fame during the 1990s, and his songs Monologue and House of Love.

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

The same year, Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo portrayed New York City’s drag queens who embark on a road trip after trying to win the Drag Queen of the Year contest.

The movie title refers to an iconic autographed photo of actress Julie Newmar that the queens carry with them on their journey. Newmar also appears in the film as herself and now-world-famous drag queen, RuPaul, also makes an appearance — as well as Robin Williams.

1996 – The Birdcage

This recreation of the aforementioned La Cage Aux Folles, outlined further up the timeline, has made a difference in the lives of many drag artists including the cast of CBC’s Queens.

“I’ve never seen drag before this movie and I still didn’t think it was an actual thing. Looking back on it, it’s funny how that movie opened up a world to me that I would call my own at some point,” says Geoffrey Gough (Ivory Towers) about the movie The Birdcage, which she says she would recommend 100%. 

This was another movie that Murphy Longley (Quick Lewinsky) also remembers seeing on television and says: “It’s a very narrow view of [drag] but at the same time validating for people who felt different in that way, or fabulous in that way.”

1998 – Velvet Goldmine

Rock music and shows, fashion, and rock journalism all played a big role in 1970s Britain and the LGBTQ+ culture of the time. Velvet Goldmine is a musical drama set in the British glam rock era of the early ’70s loosely based on the story of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. 

The movie, named after Bowie’s 1982 single of the same name, follows a journalist, Arthur Stuart, who’s writing an article about the disappearance of Brian Slade, whose paranoia of being murdered during a concert — something Bowie had incorporated into the Ziggy Stardust story in the climax of the Ziggy Stardust album — is turned into a career-ending publicity stunt by Slade. After that he gradually disappears from the public view entirely. As Stuart tries to find out what happened, he talks to people connected to Slade revisiting the glam-rock scene of the ’70s.

CBC Queens’ ‘Lucinda Miu says that being of Latin descent, she was first introduced to drag via a telenovela La Madrastra, a whodunit murder mystery that featured a villain drag character that was sort of a trope but she thought was interesting and gave her an understanding of the concept of drag. But the movie that opened her eyes to “gender expression and presenting the way you want,” she says, was Velvet Goldmine.

“It’s one of my favourites. Growing up, I found a lot of joy and inspiration from that movie, seeing how these glam rockers just put on costumes that were larger than life and just didn’t care about what people thought.”

1999 – Flawless

“I’m more man than you’ll ever be and more woman than you’ll ever get,” is a classic line from this movie, starring two Academy Award-winning actors, Robert DeNiro and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. 

The movie follows a conservative security guard who suffers a debilitating stroke and is assigned to a rehabilitative program that includes singing lessons with the drag queen next door.

2008 – Pageant documentary

This documentary film explores universal desire for beauty and being noticed featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race season one contestant Victoria “Porkchop” Parker (a.k.a Victor Bowling), season five contestant Alyssa Edwards (Justin Johnson) and other contestants on their path to be crowned Miss Gay America 2008.

2009 – RuPaul’s Drag Race premieres

RuPaul in RuPaul’s Drag Race. ( 2009)

The world’s most famous drag queen, RuPaul, created a competition-style reality series where drag queens compete for the title of America’s next drag superstar. Since the show’s premiere in the U.S., it has inspired spin off shows such as RuPaul’s Drag U and RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars as well as international incarnations including the UK, Australia, Canada and other non-English-speaking countries around the world.

2015 – Parole de King!

Drag kings were not getting as much attention as drag queens and a documentary Parole de King! brings the kings to the forefront as Chriss Lag travels all over France and meets 22 drag kings, following them as they take the stage and lead workshops.

Dressed as a Girl 

A British documentary film of East London’s drag scene which focuses on both the public and personal lives of some of the key performers on the alternative drag scene was released in 2015 as well.

“There’s something about the English approach to drag that has always lacked the homophobia of North American drag and its approach to it,” says Reid, explaining that though people have the perception that British people are proudish, they’ve always been progressive and had more of a sense of humour about themselves. 

He says they’ve portrayed drag and even nudity on television dating back to the ’60s before it was acceptable in North America. 

“I think that kind of goes hand in hand with the facts that the Brits don’t take themselves as seriously as North Americans.”

2018 – Canada’s a Drag

A three-season, 33-part docu-series series on CBC Gem showcases the true north strong and fabulous centring around individual drag performers from different Canadian cities, inclusive of drag queens, drag kings and transgender or non-binary performers. Featured in season one is CBC Queens’ Allysin Chaynes.

2019 – Drag Me Down the Aisle

IMDB: Alex Michaels, Nea Marshall Kudi, Jujubee, and Shane Galligan in Drag Me Down the Aisle: Say Yaas to the Dress. (2019)

RuPaul’s Drag Race made a huge cultural impact and elevated drag to the mainstream which resulted in many of the contestants’ success on television. This American television special on TLC featured RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnae, Alexis Michelle, BeBe Zahara Benet, Jujubee, and Thorgy Thor as they help engaged women plan their upcoming weddings. The show was given a full season titled Dragnificent!, in 2020.

2020 – Canada’s Drag Race

IMDB: Amanda Brugel, Stacey McKenzie, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, and Brooke Lynn Hytes in Canada’s Drag Race. (2020)

Canada’s Drag Race is the fourth international rendition of the Drag Race franchise which is the first English speaking version to not have RuPaul as a host, however, he does appear in video messages and narrates the title sequence.

2020 – Queens

(The cast of CBC Comedy’s Queens.)

And last but not least, Canadian whodunit comedy-mystery web series on CBC Gem following an eclectic cast of Toronto drag queens leading up to the night of the “Miss Church Street” pageant. 

Each episode focuses on the misadventures of a particular drag performer whose preparation for the pageant is interrupted in a strange and unfortunate way. All of these mishaps lead the queens to realize the truth — they’ve all been sabotaged! But who among them is the saboteur? Or, rather, saboteuse?



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