ALASKA IS A DRAG explores the power pageant that is gender –- all told with fish guts, fist fights, northern lights, sequins, and disco balls in fish scales.
The story itself focuses on LEO – a fish out of water, he’s an artistic, underdog trapped in a small town. I think at one time or another, everyone has felt that they were destined for more than their current circumstances allow, we have all been Leo. I was.
I grew up a mutt in Salt Lake City, Utah. I felt trapped and dreamed of living in Paris in the 20s or PARIS IS BURNING – just somewhere else.
When, I finally got out and moved to NYC, I performed in a drag sister act with a 7 foot tall black drag queen. Walking home after a show, dressed in matching fabulous outfits – we were attacked by two homophobic jerks. I cowered but my sister was fearless – she ran straight at them throwing hard punches and they ran away. She saved me. When I asked where she learned to fight like that, she said, “A girl picks up skills along the way.”
On some level the film is the distillation of that time in my life, but when Martin, the actor who plays Leo and I met (he also stars in my short film), he felt had written his personal story, as a young gay man growing up in Philadelphia, there is so much of Martin in Leo. We discovered his drag persona together, I wanted to explore the first time someone performs on stage in front of an audience. Throughout the film, Leo is drawing on that power, building inside of him.
I love the power of drag -– there’s great strength and energy in tapping into and subverting the norms. Leo is learning to harness that power.
I wanted to explore with this film the collision of gender and the pageantry of boxers and drag queens.
Alaska seemed like the perfect setting for it, I spent a summer working in a fish cannery and Alaska is so unique and intense with the ethereal Northern Lights painting the sky, in stark contrast to the monotony of cannery life and the violence of isolation, where standing out in a crowd isn’t a good thing. I dove into the moments of where and how those worlds collide, intertwine and break away – the gay and the straight, the masculine and feminine, violence and non-violence, harsh reality and escapist fantasy.
I wanted the fights and the drag sequences to have overlapping elements and all occur in the real locations i.e.: the cannery or the gym or the RV.
I’m drawn to and obsessed with the flamboyance and bravado of boxers and drag queens – they are the fun house mirrors of each other. One is wholly female and the other wholly male – in a way that doesn’t always exist in real life. The actors and I talked about the innate sensuality and vulnerability of two men boxing that informs the relationship of Kyle and Leo and later Declan and Leo.
The feature script was developed through the Naked Angels Development program “Angels in Progress”. And was selected for labs and incubators at Sundance, Film Independent, IFP, CLEVER, US in Progress, the short film was made as one of eight projects as a part of the prestigious AFI Directing Workshop for Women.