A group of VCU mass communications majors dove deep into RVA’s drag scene last semester and their short documentary is now available on youtube.
“Kings and Queens,” produce by Brittney Barbour, Helina Fasil and Carlos Stewart and shot with live footage from Godfrey’s, shines a unique light on the river cities gender bending scene and features many local names and faces most of us are familiar with.
“She had the advantage of being very familiar with the scene and actually knowing a lot of the queens she interviewed,” said Alex Saady, also a VCU mass communications student whose stage name is Vivienne Hardwood, and is one of the queens featured in the documentary.
Barbour said Godfrey’s restaurant and nightclub on E. Grace Street was very welcoming and open to the idea. Some of the performers felt a little awkward being taped at first, but that quickly subsided as the performers got to know her.
“I used to go to Godfrey’s a lot so I was very familiar with some of the performers and that’s actually how I got the idea to feature the drag scene in Richmond for my class project,” Barbour said. “I’m from DC originally and I was really taken by surprise by how much openness there is in Richmond toward this community,” she added.
The documentary is unique in the sense that Barbour garnered varied perspectives from throughout the drag community. She included interviews with a king—a less conspicuous aspect of the drag scene—as well as viewpoints from queens who are relatively fresh on the scene, to those with well-respected reputations acquired over several years of performing.
“There are a lot less of us than there are queens,” said Jessie Harper, whose stage name is Jack Twist and won Mr. DC Royale in 2012. “Richmond expects the best, and if you’re not the best you don’t last. And they expect that of kings too, and they’re even more critical of us,” she said.
Barbour said she contacted Harper through Facebook and was excited to incorporate a king in the film. Saady said one of the aspects of the documentary that he appreciated most was Barbour’s inclusion of Harper because most people are unaware of the roles kings play in the drag community.
Barbour also highlighted Alvion Davenport, a queen whose given name is Darryl Jones and labeled himself a “professional female impersonator,” in the documentary. Jones has been performing at Godfrey’s for over a decade and refers to the venue as his home.
“It was like a release,” Jones explains in the video about when he began performing. “I could finally just be me and let go,” he adds.
As well as offering glimpses of the behind-the-scenes details of what goes into preparing for and putting on a show, the king and queens Barbour interviewed describe the caste-like and drag-mother/drag-daughter system as well as the different reactions they’ve received from friends and family when they found out that they perform drag.
“I think that’s the biggest thing—people don’t understand the line between transsexual, transgender and drag. A drag queens a drag queen. We are men with our [junk] between our legs who run around in dresses,” Saady said.
Overall, Barbour said that the feedback she’s received on “Kings and Queens” has been overwhelmingly positive from peers, professors and throughout the community.
“My professor actually said he wants to use it as an example for future students of what a documentary should be like,” she said.