Monday, March 13, 2017

The Miss Gay America Pageant presents The 5 Best Documentaries About The Art of Female Impersonation

Above: Still of former Miss Gay Arkansas 1993 Kelly Cruise (Spencer May) as he appears in  "The Damn Deal," the documentary by former Miss America, Elizabeth Gracen.

Established in Nashville in 1972–37 years before "RuPaul's Drag Race"–The Miss Gay America Pageant is the world’s first, longest running and most prestigious female impersonator competition. The 45th Miss Gay America Pageant season kicked off in March with the Miss Gay Heart of America pageant in Columbus, OH. It was the first of nearly two-dozen preliminaries happening across the country, each of which will send a winner and alternate to the Miss Gay America nationals in New Orleans this October.  (Click here to find a Miss Gay America preliminary near you.)

In celebration of its 45th year, the Miss Gay America Pageant invites you to get your Drag History 101 on with 5 of the best documentary films ever made on female impersonation pageants.Many of the films are now available on gay-centric streaming service
"The Queen," featuring the legendary Flawless Sabrina, is about a New York City pageant in 1968 and is beloved by fans for its fiercely quotable moments. "Paris Is Burning" should need no introduction. "The Damn Deal" and "Pageant" are about the Miss Gay America competition (the first of which, interestingly, was made by a former Miss America). The forthcoming "The Queens," not only goes inside the Miss Continental pageant–the other major drag pageant–but also delves into the history one of the worlds' most famous female impersonation nightclubs, Chicago's Baton.

The bonus, sixth film, "The Unforgettable Danny La Rue," is not about drag pageantry per se, but about what these pageants celebrate–and reward: the ability to get up on a stage, reliably entertain a live audience, and build a successful, sustainable career as a star entertainer. La Rue, arguably the most successful female impersonator of the mid-20th century, did this in spectacular fashion.

In order of the date release. Scroll, watch, and learn:

The Queen
Before there was “Paris Is Burning,” there was “The Queen,” starring the legendary Flawless Sabrina, who produces and MC’s the Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant held at Manhattan’s Town Hall in 1967. The New York Times review at the time said, “Funny–and inspired–extraordinary in their Atlantic City of Genet–in their Forest Hills of drag–these gentlemen in bras, diaphanous gowns, lipstick, hairfalls and huff–discussing their husbands in the military in Japan, or describing their own problems with the draft–one grows fond of them all."

And, darling, if you thought “Paris Is Burning”* taught you what “reading” was, wait till you get a load of sore loser Crystal in a deliciously seething post-pageant rage. Judges included Andy Warhol and George Plimpton. Produced by Si Litvinoff (“Clockwork Orange,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth”) and Lewis Allen (“Fahrenheit 451,” “Lord of the Flies”).

Watch: Exclusively on Dekkoo.

Paris Is Burning

While many of these films have or will soon secure their “status in the ballroom,” few are as truly “legendary” as “Paris Is Burning” (pair it up with “The Queen” for a great double-feature.) Jenny Livingston’s 1991 documentary (shot in the late Eighties) lifts the lid on the deeply underground ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Latino, gay and transgender communities that created it. Fascinating, heartbreaking, and eminently quotable (“Shade is I don't tell you you're ugly but I don't have to tell you because you know you're ugly ... and that's shade,” Dorian Corey), “Paris is Burning” is not only a treasured time capsule of LGBT history, but also a cuttingly honest examination of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America.

Watch the trailer here. Buy the video on Amazon.

The Damn Deal

In 1997, filmmaker, writer and former Miss America, Elizabeth Gracen, interviewed three contestants in the Miss Gay America Pageant system–including former Miss Gay Arkansas 1993 Kelly Cruise (Spencer May)–for her captivating, beautifully lit and shot black-and-white documentary, “The Damn Deal” (Flapper Films). The recovered, original footage, now restored, explores gender, identity and what it was like to grow up gay in the South at the end of the 20th century.  

Read our interview with Gracen here on MGAZINE.

Watch: Full film above/YouTube or stream on Dekkoo.

This documentary by Stewart Halpern takes a look at the 34th Miss Gay America pageant (2008) in which 52 men strive to achieve the most convincing illusion of feminine beauty. With all hormone and surgical enhancements banned from the competition,  contestants rely entirely on tricks of makeup, wigs and wardrobe, and are rigorously judged in five categories including Male Interview, Evening Gown and Talent.
“Pageant” follows five contestants as they prepare and compete for the Miss Gay America crown. Along for the ride are those who love and support them: husbands, mothers (“I want to be there when he wins, I want to be a part of it”), sons, and little brothers (“If she goes, I go”). One of the many touching moments in the film is when Carl Glorioso's grade school-age brother proudly shows off his big brother’s drag closet.

Miss Gay America contestants featured are Miss Gay Western States America 2007 Alina Malletti, Miss Gay Southern States America 2016 Chantal Reshae, Miss Gay America 2011 Coti Collins, Miss Gay North Carolina America 2008 Victoria "Porkchop" Parker, and Miss Gay America 2009 Victoria DePaula.

Watch: Rent/Buy at or stream on

The Queens

Set to debut in Spring 2017 and produced by The Reporters Inc., this feature-length film about the 36-year-old Miss Continental Pageant goes backstage and into the lives of its rainbow of contestants, which includes both trans women and cisgender men. “The Queens” explores the whys and hows of the physical alterations the trans contestants have made to their outer bodies and also looks at the tensions that arise between those who have and have not undergone physical alterations to their appearance.

Because Miss Continental is so closely linked to Chicago's legendary female impersonation nightclub, The Baton (Jim Flint created and owns them both), “The Queens” also delves into the history of the iconic, 46-year-old show lounge.

Watch Trailer #2 and #3 and see more info and updates here and on Facebook.

Bonus Film

The Unforgettable Danny La Rue
A charming and fascinating look at the six-decade career of Britain’s Danny La Rue, the most famous, highest paid (worth $80 million+ in 2016 dollars), female impersonator of the mid-20th century. Referring to himself as a “comic in a frock,” he was famous for his saucy double entendre-laden cabaret banter, glamorous gowns, and riffing on contemporary stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Carol Channing, Garbo and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Celebrities flocked to his shows at his eponymous London club Danny La Rue’s, among them, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, Princess Margaret, Shirley Bassey, Warren Beatty and a sixteen year old Liza Minelli.

Watch: Full film above/YouTube

For more about the Miss Gay America pageant please visit and check out the rest of the fab Miss Gay America blog, MGAZINE for more MGA news, photos and history.