Simply put, I loved this documentary. Let’s start with the level of being a documentary. This film focuses on five of the 52 contestants in the Miss Gay America Pageant. I liked this emphasis on just a small sampling of the contestants, since it allows you to become familiar with them and start rooting for (or against) one or more of them. This focus creates the documentary’s narrative and sucks up into the competitions and back- and onstage dramas.
Like the ladies in the Miss American Pageant, these ladies participate in a series of competitions before the pageant’s finale, where the finalists are named and then compete for the crown. We see the contestants undergo an interview as men — they are required to dress in male clothing and are judged, in part, on their ability to distance themselves from their drag persona. They have a solo talent competition, in which they have to perform alone and without separate props. Then they have a talent production contest, in which they can have back-up dancers, props, and sets. And they have to compete in evening gowns.
On the final night of the competition, the finalists compete once again in evening wear and production talent and answer an interview question (this time in their drag persona). The focus on five contestants allows us to keep up with all of these events and put them into context with all of the backstage drama and activities going on in these men’s lives.
In addition to the focus and narrative, I love the attitude this documentary takes towards its subject. These men are not depicted as freaks or even outrageous divas. They are humanized and shown as men who really care about what they’re doing. Some of them want fame. Some want fortune. Some want attention. They all want to win.
This element also adds to the drama. I don’t think you can watch this documentary without hoping that one or other of the contestants will win, depending on your point of view. I don’t think the documentary stacks the deck against any of the five ladies we follow, which is another thing I like. It doesn’t play favorites. We see each of the contestants on their own. I ended up liking some more than others but not because the filmmakers decided in advance who they wanted me to like.
We also get to see some of the contestants’ families and friends. It’s great to see the support some of these guys get from their mothers, for example, or little brothers. Others are married and enjoy the support of their husbands. One spends the film with what we assume is his boyfriend, who turns out not to be (supposedly).
I also love the men/ladies who are competing in this pageant. The documentary starts by telling us a little about each of them. We get to see their home lives and occupations outside of the pageant. While I sometimes thought that one or another of the ladies was kidding themselves or liked one’s talent more than the others and so forth, these men all seem like people who would be fun to know. And I don’t just mean as drag queens. Apart from that (though also including it), these men seem like good, creative, and interesting people. They might be a little crazy sometimes, but who isn’t?
And finally, I loved the excitement that the documentary creates about the final night of competition. By the time we get to the end, I was really invested in the outcome. In fact, this documentary made me want to go to the pageant, and I immediately looked up where it was taking place next. Unfortunately, this year’s pageant happened this weekend in St. Louis. I couldn’t believe it! I think it would be fun to go to the contest and watch it live. Maybe next year I’ll get to go.
The other thing I did after watching the documentary was check out who has won the crown in the years since. I was surprised that some of the contestants featured in the film went on to place in the top five again and at least one has won the crown. Others have dropped out of the competition. It was interesting to get a little info on what’s happened to them.
One of my favorite shows this year was RuPaul’s Drag Race, which clearly owes a debt to the Miss Gay America Pageant. I hope the next season of RDR will feature even more contestants. If not, the pageant should investigate the possibility to becoming a t.v. series too. I really enjoyed it and want to see more.