The documentary “Wig” is a joyous and sassy love letter to Wigstock (the annual drag festival in New York City) and New York City’s drag culture. The movie comes 24 years after the 1995 documentary “Wigstock: The Movie,” which chronicled the 1994 Wigstock event. Unlike “Wigstock: The Movie,” which was essentially a concert film, “Wig” takes a deeper dive into the history of Wigstock and its underrated impact on pop culture.
Wigstock was launched in 1984 by Lady Bunny, and its first incarnation ran until 2001. The festival was revived in 2018 by Lady Bunny and Neil Patrick Harris. (Harris and his husband, David Burtka, are two of the producers of “Wig,” which had its world premiere as part of the Tribeca Film Festival’s inaugural Tribeca Celebrates Pride, an entire day of LGBTQ-themed programming. Lady Bunny performed after the film’s premiere.)
A lot has changed since Wigstock went on hiatus in 2001. RuPaul, who was one of Wigstock’s original stars, has become an entertainment mogul, as the host/showrunner of the Emmy-winning drag contest “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the founder of RuPaul’s DragCon event, which currently has annual editions in Los Angeles and New York City. The rise of RuPaul and drag culture is a direct result of LGBTQ culture overall becoming much more visible in the 21st century, with more LGBTQ characters and reality stars on screen; the launch of LGBTQ TV networks, such as Logo and Here; and more LGBTQ celebrities living their lives openly. That visibility and growing public support for LGBTQ rights also had an impact on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to make marriage equality legal for same-sex couples.
In its own unique way, Wigstock has been part of this movement. It’s important to bring up this historical context because “Wig” would have been a very different movie if it had been made in the 1990s. “Wig” director Chris Moukarbel (who directed Lady Gaga’s 2017 Netflix documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two”) skillfully rises to the challenge of presenting the history of Wigstock in a cohesive, entertaining style that a wide variety of people can relate to and enjoy.
“Wig” includes some prophetic archival footage from the early 1990s showing RuPaul having a bathroom conversation with British filmmaker Fenton Bailey, who asks RuPaul if drag queens will be popular in America. Fast forward decades later, and Bailey’s World of Wonder production company (which he co-founded in 1991 with fellow filmmaker Randy Barbato) is producing the “Drag Race” franchise, drag queen Big Freedia’s self-titled reality series and numerous other film, TV and digital projects. RuPaul is seen frequently throughout the “Wig” movie, including RuPaul’s early club days at New York City’s Pyramid Club (which was a vital part of the city’s drag scene that birthed Wigstock), to directing an impromptu home photo session with fellow drag queen Nelson Sullivan in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, to on-stage appearances at Wigstock throughout the years.
In “Wig,” many of the drag queens comment on the mainstreaming of drag culture, compared to the early years of Wigstock. Although many of the queens appreciate that drag culture has become more accepted and has become a more viable way to make a living, some of the queens express some wistful nostalgia for the days when the community was much smaller and more tight-knit.
Drag queen Linda Simpson says that “’Drag Race’ was groundbreaking,” but the flip side is that drag culture was “more fun” when it was less mainstream. Simpson adds, “Now, drag is all about de-mystifying drag. It takes away from the insider-y feel that we had before.”
Flotilla DeBarge comments, “There are too many people right now who want to be drag queens, but they don’t know what it’s about,” adding that doing drag should be about passion, not money. “Anybody can do drag, but what kind of drag queen do you want to be?” As drag queen Naomi Smalls puts it: “RuPaul paved the way for me, but who the fuck paved the way for Ru? I love that drag is being normalized.”
For many drag queens, validation outside the drag community is the ultimate sign of success. Willam Belli, also known as drag queen Willam (a former “Drag Race” contestant who landed a cameo in the 2018 remake of “A Star Is Born”), hilariously tells a story about surprising a male intruder who had broken into Willam’s home, and the intruder backed away and called her “ma’am.” Willam laughs when remembering how the intruder acknowledged her as a woman: “I passed!”
Some of the Wigstock devotees also talk about their early influences. Charlene Incarnate says that most of her gay role models were closeted dads in her church. Harris said that drag culture appeals to him as a magician. As drag queen Tabboo! says in the film, “Wigstock was revolutionary because it kickstarted the ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are.’”
Lady Bunny adds, “We were putting something special out there in New York because this was the time of AIDS.” The AIDS crisis and its impact on the LGBTQ community is given a respectful amount of acknowledgement in “Wig,” which includes some heartbreaking testimonials of people who have lost friends and loved ones to the deadly disease.
Hate crimes against drag queens and others in the LGBTQ community are also mentioned in “Wig.” Jeremy Extravagance talks about his longtime friendship with singer/drag queen Kevin Aviance, who was the survivor of a vicious beating in 2006, outside of a gay bar in Manhattan. Aviance, who is interviewed and has some of the movie’s best scenes, describes his attack as, “I never felt so much hate in my life from someone I never met.” He says of being a hate-crime survivor: “Drag is my silver lining.”
As one commentator puts it: “Drag is hyper-femininity in response to aggressive masculinity.” If that’s the case, then Wigstock is the ultimate on-stage clapback. The heart of the movie is still about the thrill and the spectacle of performing at Wigstock, with Lady Bunny as the event’s founding mother. Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry, a previous Wigstock performer, says cheekily of Lady Bunny: “The thing that annoys me about Bunny is that she flirts like crazy…and nothing happened [between us].”
If there’s any one person who’s portrayed as a chief villain in “Wig,” it’s Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City from 1993 to 2001. (He is not interviewed in the movie.) Giuliani’s crackdown of the city’s nightclubs resulted in numerous closures that directly affected gay nightlife and drag culture. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Wigstock went out of business when Giuliani was in office.
The movie culminates with a dazzling array of footage from Wigstock’s spectacular comeback in 2018, including appearances from Lady Bunny, Bianca Del Rio, Aviance, Ladies of Lips, Amanda Lepore and Harris in full costume from his Tony-winning “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” drag role. If people still don’t understand what drag culture is about, one “Wig” commentator says it best in the movie: “Drag is about putting on the outside what you feel on the inside.”
The following is a press release is from the Tribeca Film Festival:
The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, will continue its tradition of celebrating activism in the arts with the inaugural Tribeca Celebrates Pride, a day-long event on Saturday, May 4th at the Tribeca Festival Hub at Spring Studios. The day will honor the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, including one-on-one interviews with LGBTQ+ luminaries including Neil Patrick Harris, John Cameron Mitchell, Larry Kramer and guest speaker Asia Kate Dillon. The program will reflect on the impact of this seminal moment for the LGBTQ+ community and include conversations with Raul Castillo, Patti Harrison, Angelica Ross, and more. Tickets are on sale now for the event, which runs from 10am to 6pm.
Tribeca encourages and supports inclusive storytelling and its LGBTQ+ focused programming is an integral part of the Festival, mirroring the diverse population of New York City itself. The program will feature notable LGBTQ+ guest speakers in a series of conversations, including the activists that make up the fabric of New York’s queer community, the thought leaders changing the landscape of film and television and the public figures leading the cultural conversation. Additionally, the event will shine a light on the LGBTQ+ experience through a carefully curated program of seven short films, all of which are playing in competition at the Festival. Notable talent featured in these shorts include Angelica Ross (Pose), Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) and Zackary Drucker (Transparent).
The day will conclude with the world premiere of the HBO Documentary Film Wig, a film spotlighting the art of drag, centered on the New York staple Wigstock, that showcases the personalities and performances that inform the ways we understand queerness, art and identity today. Following the premiere, audiences will be treated to a live drag show hosted by the founder of Wigstock, Lady Bunny. Tickets are on sale now for the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, taking place April 24 – May 5.
“This year, Tribeca will showcase artists who have used storytelling to bring people together around a common goal: inclusivity. We’ve come so far in the fifty years since the Stonewall riots, but there is so much more to be done,” said Paula Weinstein, EVP of Tribeca Enterprises. “In honor of that pivotal moment in our culture, we hope this day of LGBTQ+ storytelling-driven programming will not just honor the work of those who came before us, but also those who are helping to ignite the passion of the next generation.”
Leading the programming for Tribeca Celebrates Pride is Lucy Mukerjee, a Senior Programmer at the Tribeca Film Festival, and formerly the Director of Programming at Outfest and Newfest LGBTQ Film Festivals. Mukerjee said, “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity during my first year at the Tribeca Film Festival to bring the queer community and our allies together. This exciting landmark event at the Festival showcases how fostering LGBTQ+ culture plays a role in moving society forward and creating a better tomorrow.”
Tribeca Celebrates Pride partners include The Stonewall Inn, NYC Pride, and The Human Rights Campaign. Co-hosts include ACT UP, Callen Lorde, Immigration Equality, NALIP, NewFest, Queer|Art, The Trevor Project, Trans Can Work, True Colors United and Vocal NY. Rivianna Hyatt will speak on behalf of True Colors United and Laura A. Jacobs on behalf of Callen Lorde.
Tickets are on sale now for Tribeca Celebrates Pride a day long event from 10am to 6pm ($30), followed by the World Premiere of Wig ($30).
TRIBECA CELEBRATES PRIDE:
Event time: 10:00AM – 6:00PM
Location: Tribeca Festival Hub at Spring Studios
Neil Patrick Harris
The Emmy and Tony award-winning actor, writer, producer, singer and all-round entertainer, known most recently for his role in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, will take a look back at some of his most significant milestones including being the first openly gay man to host the Academy Awards, being named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People, and being a father of two.
John Cameron Mitchell in conversation with Patti Harrison
The director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), Shortbus (2006), Rabbit Hole (2010), How To Talk To Girls At Parties (2017) and the upcoming musical podcast series Anthem: Homunculus, reflects on being open about his queer identity throughout his career and how that has fed his creative work. In conversation with his Shrill co-star, comedian Patti Harrison.
Larry Kramer in conversation with his friend and biographer Bill Goldstein
The founder of ACT UP, playwright of A Normal Heart, and subject of the documentary Larry Kramer in Love and Anger talks us through his experiences from the Stonewall riots to today, and how he’s witnessed the LGBTQ+ movement evolve from protest to pride.
Asia Kate Dillon
Best known for their roles on Billions and Orange Is The New Black, and soon to be seen in John Wick 3: Parabellum, Asia Kate Dillon is a non-binary actor and activist who advocates for expanding the definition of gender identity beyond just man and woman.
Kathy Tu and Tobin Low
Kathy Tu and Tobin Low are the co-hosts of “Nancy,” the critically acclaimed storytelling podcast from WNYC Studios exploring how we define ourselves, the journey it takes to get there, and the queer experience today. Praised as “warm and inspiring” by The Guardian, Tu and Low were recently named to the OUT 100 and to Logo TV’s Logo30 for being among the most “extraordinary people who show pride in unique and provocative ways.”
Activism Through The Ages
An inter-generational panel of thought-leaders and changemakers discuss the different forms their activism takes, and share some of the biggest highlights and challenges they’ve encountered on the front line in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality.
Moderator: Twiggy Pucci Garcon
Panelists: Jason Walker, Fabrice Houdart, Staceyann Chin, Stacy Lentz
Being A Multi Hyphenate
This panel will bring together queer creatives who have interpreted their artistic visions across various mediums, from art and fashion, to theater and film. As multi hyphenate cultural producers, the influence of these individuals runs deep within the community. In this conversation, we will hear from authors, filmmakers, performers and Broadway producers who have found themselves experimenting with many artforms in order to express themselves and tell their story.
Moderator: Tre’vell Anderson
Panelists: Alok Vaid Menon, Jordan Roth, Leilah Weinraub, Jacob Tobia
From Persecution to Asylum: LGBTQ Refugees Tell Their Stories
In more than 70 countries around the world, it is still considered a crime to be LGBTQ+. For nearly 25 years, Immigration Equality has provided free legal services to LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive immigrants fleeing persecution and has won asylum for more than 1,000 people. Hear first-hand testimonies from queer and trans asylum recipients about their experiences rebuilding their lives in the United States in partnership with Immigration Equality.
Moderator: Aaron C. Morris
Panelists: Denise Chambers, David Paul Kay, Ilo Rincón
LGBTQ Media Visibility
Media portrayals of our community have changed significantly in the past decade, not only becoming more frequent but also increasingly complex, representing intersectional identities across race, religion and genders. Inevitably, this LGBTQ representation has impacted societal attitudes. This conversation will look at how being out in the public eye has affected our panelists’ identities, their day to day lives and careers and also shaped the cultural conversation of this country. We will talk about the milestones our panelists have been part of, both scripted and unscripted – from onscreen coming out declarations to triumphant same-sex embraces, and how the professionals around them have supported or discouraged their living openly and honestly.
Moderator: Brad Calcaterra
Panelists: Joanna Lohman, Raul Castillo, Roberta Colindrez, Wade A. Davis
Who Gets To Tell Whose Story?
Telling the story of a community that you don’t represent is a dicey prospect; filmmakers risk alienating the very audience the film is aimed at. Ego-free collaboration is crucial. This productive panel will include discussions of cross-community collaborations where trans, non-binary and intersex artists have joined forces with cisgender creatives to forge successful storytelling partnerships. The conversation will look at allyship and how filmmakers can use their privilege for good, putting historically marginalized characters front and center to tell unsung stories with respect and authenticity. Three teams will be showcased.
Moderator: Tiq Milan
Panelists: Angelica Ross & Steven Canals, Ser Anzoategui & Tanya Saracho, River Gallo & Sadé Clacken Joseph
Out in Office
A cross section of individuals from congress and state legislation discuss their personal path to leadership, the state of equality today, and the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the lawmaking process.
Moderator: Allison VanKuiken
Panelists: House Representative Malcolm Kenyatta (PA), House Representative David Cicilline (RI), Sarah McBride
Several representatives discuss how they have supported and strategized the career trajectories of their high profile LGBTQ+ Clients.
Moderator: Bill Keith
Panelists: Simon Halls, Kevin Huvane, Joe Machota
Shorts Program Pride: Front and Center
Standing tall with these short films that celebrate Pride, this carefully curated program contains both narrative and documentary shorts, and poignantly explores LGBTQ+ life with humor, panache, kindness and compassion. Featuring Angelica Ross (Pose), Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) and Zackary Drucker (Transparent), prepare for a cross-cultural odyssey that ends, fittingly, with the safe queer haven of Christopher Street Pier. Curated by Tribeca Film Festival Shorts Programmers Sharon Badal and Ben Thompson. Featured shorts are: I Think She Likes You, Momster, Ponyboi, Black Hat, Carlito Leaves Forever, Framing Agnes and Stanley Stellar: Here For This Reason.
Event time: 8:00PM
Location: Tribeca Festival Hub
World Premiere of Wig Wig, directed by Chris Moukarbel. Produced by Jack Turner, Bruce Cohen, David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Weinberg, Jay Peterson, Michael Mayer, Todd Lubin. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary.
Wigstock was an annual drag festival, which glamorously signaled the end of summer for the gay community in NYC for almost twenty years. Late one night in 1984, Lady Bunny and a few friends drunkenly wandered from the Pyramid Club in the East Village to Tompkins Square Park and staged an impromptu drag show in the bandshell. This would soon become an annual drag bacchanal, that lasted up until 2001. And now, Lady Bunny has brought it back. This past summer, the festival returned, bringing together legendary queens with some of the new children of drag, into one of the largest drag performances ever staged.
Wig explores the origins and the influence of the historic festival through rich archival footage, as well as provides a look into the contemporary drag movement that the festival served as a foundation for. It’s a celebration of New York drag culture, and those personalities and performances that contribute to the ways we understand queerness, art, and identity today. With Lady Bunny, Charlene Incarnate, Flotilla DeBarge, Kevin Aviance, Neil Patrick Harris, Willam, Linda Simpson, Naomi Smalls, Tabboo! HBO Documentary Films
After the Premiere Screening: A special drag performance hosted by legendary drag queen Lady Bunny including Charlene Incarnate, Bobby Samplsize, Flotilla DeBarge, Willam, and more.
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Passes and Tickets for the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival
Tickets for all events at the Tribeca Film Festival are on sale at tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or by telephone at (646) 502-5296 or toll-free at (866) 941-FEST (3378).
Also available for purchase now is The Hudson Pass, an all-access pass to screenings and talks taking place at BMCC TPAC, Regal Battery Park Stadium, Village East Cinema, and SVA theaters as well as full access to all events at the Festival Hub at Spring Studios, which includes VR and Immersive projects, Movies Plus screenings and access to Festival lounges.
Single tickets cost $24.00 for evening and weekend screenings, $12.00 for weekday matinee screenings, $30.00 for Tribeca TV and Movies Plus $40.00 for Tribeca Talks events and $40.00 for Tribeca Immersive.
All are available for purchase on the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival App on:
About the Tribeca Film Festival:
The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, brings visionaries and diverse audiences together to celebrate storytelling in all its forms, including film, TV, VR, gaming, music, and online work. With strong roots in independent film, Tribeca is a platform for creative expression and immersive entertainment. The Festival champions emerging and established voices; discovers award-winning filmmakers and creators; curates innovative experiences; and introduces new technology and ideas through premieres, exhibitions, talks, and live performances.
The Festival was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in 2001 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Now in its 18th year, the Festival has evolved into a destination for creativity that reimagines the cinematic experience and explores how art can unite communities. The 18th annual edition will take place April 24 – May 5, 2019.www.tribecafilm.com/festival
About 2019 Tribeca Film Festival Partners:
As Presenting Sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival, AT&T is committed to supporting the Festival and the art of filmmaking through access and innovation, while expanding opportunities to diverse creators around the globe. AT&T helps millions connect to their passions – no matter where they are. This year, AT&T and Tribeca will once again collaborate to give the world access to stories from underrepresented filmmakers that deserve to be seen. “AT&T Presents Untold Stories” is an inclusive film program in collaboration with Tribeca – a multi-year, multi-tier alliance between AT&T and Tribeca along with the year-round nonprofit Tribeca Film Institute.
The Tribeca Film Festival is pleased to announce its 2019 Partners: 23andMe, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Bai Beverages, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), BVLGARI, CHANEL, CNN Films, Diageo, ESPN, HBO, IMDb, Kia, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card from Chase, Merck, Montefiore, National CineMedia (NCM), Nespresso, New York Magazine, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Prime Video Direct, P&G, PwC, Salesforce, Spring Studios New York, Squarespace, Status Sparkling Wine, and Stella Artois.