Film Reviews

Review: ‘Drag Kids’

Hot Docs 2019


Drag Kids
(Canada, 80 min.)
Dir. Megan Weinberg
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premere)

Four pre-teens, the film’s eponymous Drag Kids, delight in dressing up and going over the top on make up to achieve their ideal of 21st century glam. Then they strut their stuff in contests and venues that admit children. Stephan, Jason, and Nemis are boy drag queens; Bracken is a Vancouver girl who calls herself a “hyper queen,” meaning she wildly exaggerates her natural femininity.

Montreal’s Nemis, known as Queen Lactacia, has become a star in the world of child drag. Although Weinberg’s energetic doc makes the point that the supportive parents must deal with community disapproval, monitor the kids’ social media accounts, and worry about dangers lurking out there, it doesn’t focus much on the disconcerting aspects of little boys voguing in girls’ clothes.

Lactacia has been photographed with a naked adult drag queen. And for sure, the wigs, false eyelashes, tight dresses, high-heel boots, and lip-synching to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” are not entirely neutral.

The parents deny they are sexualizing their children or that drag has anything to do with their sexual identity. As one of the kids puts it, a drag queen is merely a male “who wants to put on a feminine persona.” For the kids and their parents, it’s just an enjoyable game. The children in the doc tend to be articulate, at times sarcastic, very excitable, and narcissistic—in love, as one mom says, with all reflective surfaces. They precociously say things like “My homage to Donatella Versace.”

The doc’s storyline revolves around its characters meeting in Montreal to perform together at Gay Pride. They hang out, excited to be with kindred souls, free of misunderstandings and being subjected to insults. As we watch them rehearsing with a demanding choreographer, we see, and they must confront, their limitations as performers. “It’s hard,” says Stephan.

Of all the Drag Kids, Stephan has the most dramatic moments. When his parents are happy because he will have to share the stage in Montreal, they’re implying he tends to be self-absorbed. Everything is an act with him, his mother says. In an intense scene, Stephan throws himself on his bed and has a tantrum like a hysterical diva. Then he stops on a dime and cools down, quite a transformation. The scene is echoed at the end of the film.

The doc builds to the big show, which doesn’t quite come together as a climax. Overall, Drag Kids needed to probe more deeply into its subject, while simultaneously tracking how its characters fare at the event. Overall, the film offers a rare glimpse into an unusual world that has received scant attention.

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Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off- and on-line, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter while researching other Jamaica-related projects, including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island. He has written for radio, journals and TV, taught screenwriting and been a contributing editor to various magazines.

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