When mental illness strikes, the whole family needs help. Where do you turn in Halifax?
When your family is a drag…By Simon Thibault | Jul 19, 2012
Tags: documentary, Families Can Be A Drag, Morgan Strug
In “traditional” families, mothers care for and educate their daughters, fathers teach their sons valuable lessons and siblings fight. Even in untraditional families. In the world of drag, family is just as important as it is in any household. Family values such as love, respect and compassion are taught. This is the world that Morgan Strug has documented in the new film, Families Can Be A Drag.
The idea that the performative world of drag could be a home for families is one that fascinated Morgan. “I liked how a lot of the queens called each other ‘sisters’,” says the filmmaker. But there are more than just sisters in the world of drag. Queens who take young performers under their wings name them as their daughters, and if a queen has more than one child, those children are known as “sisters.” But this is not an exclusively matrilineal world, as drag kings also have sons, and families have been known to have both brothers and sisters. Drag families are, after all, families like any other, and this is what Strug wanted people to know.
The Halifax born-and-bred filmmaker truly fell in love with film when they attended a session at the Atlantic Filmmaker’s Co-Op as a teenager. Morgan went on to produce a couple short films, including a small documentary that was submitted to the OUTeast Film Festival. The film didn’t make the cut, so Strug sought out the organisers of the festival to ask for suggestions and advice about filmmaking. Krista Davis, the Special Projects Manager at OUTeast was impressed by the filmmakers’ drive and figured out a way to help them out by creating a mentorship program. Called “Work In Progress”, the program is tailored to help out emerging young queer filmmakers. “We want to be able to foster the creative development of people in this city,” says Davis, “ because there’s not a lot of queer stuff being made and not a lot of places to show it.” Inspired and aided by Davis and the rest of the OUTeast crew, Morgan started working on “Families” last spring, shooting over 17 hours of interview footage and countless hours of performances. “Morgan’s ideas are really developed,” says Krista. “Through this whole process, I felt very confident that the theory behind what they were doing was sound.”
“I was kind of star struck around the performers,” Morgan says about the queens and kings captured on film. “They were all very friendly and welcoming and excited to do the interviewing, which is nice,” they demur. But it wasn’t enough to just learn about drag culture, as the filmmaker soon became a part of the culture they were documenting, with Morgan taking the stage in drag. If anything, this bit of bravado helped cement their reputation amongst the performers as someone who really wanted to tell their story.
That was important for Morgan, as documentaries can sometimes be critiqued for being exploitative. In 1990, filmmaker Jennie Livingston’s film Paris Is Burning, about a group of gay, Black, and Latino drag performers was a huge success, but Livingston was soon accused of creating her career on the backs of the very people she put on the screen. “I think that this project is a little different in putting myself in there” says Strug. “One of the things that she was criticised for was that she never situated herself within that community because she wasn’t part of it.”
One of the members of that community is Chris Pelrine, AKA Kristi Davidson. “Halifax has a great community that is like one big family with everyone supporting each other,” says Pelrine. “I love the idea of going into the drag family structure.” Pelrine’s family connections are both biological and drag-based. As Kristi, her mother is Boom Boom Lubalicious, but Chris’ real life brother, Andrew, also does drag as Bunni Lapin. “It is great to have him as a queen as well,” he says. “Not only did it double my wardrobe it was also great to have a support system for both of us.”
Strug is still working on the film, having an early version of the film at the OUTeast Film Festival in June. “The queens seem pretty cool with being on the screen,” says Morgan. “One queen, Farrah Moan said to me, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you put us upon the screen’.”