Sisters of the Wicked Wig
TYPE: Documentary Feature
In the summer of 2012 a new drag festival called the Bushwig Festival began in Brooklyn, New York and a renaissance of a rich and beautiful subculture began. This festival picks up the mantle of a long and robust historical lineage of queer subculture in this city and we have taken it upon ourselves to chronicle the stories of those involved.
Sisters of the Wicked Wig is the tale of the explosion of drag culture in Brooklyn, New York, culminating in a new drag festival, The Bushwig Festival. Set in the neighborhood Bushwick, it follows three drag queens - Horrorchata, Merrie Cherry and Elle Emenopé on their quest to find the meaning of art, love and family through a community that has grown exponentially in just a few short years.
The film enters the story of the Brooklyn drag scene through the inaugural Bushwig Festival in the summer of 2012, the likes of which has not been seen in New York City for over a decade since the discontinuation of the Wigstock Festival. In the past 3 years the number of performing queens in the historically seedy borough has gone from five or six to upwards of a hundred, which led to the inception of the Bushwig Festival in the summer of 2012, and the formation of the House of Bushwig shortly thereafter.
Questions of the nature of the house and its future are raised, as each character faces the various quandaries of being an artist in New York City. From defining drag as art, beyond binaries of gender and sexuality, to finding a family away from home, the queens of Bushwig find themselves grappling with issues that are strikingly universal. The particulars of the story lie in the unique historical moment in which New York City and, more broadly, our society finds itself; an age of nationally televised drag arts (RuPaul’s Drag Race) and free-flowing access to information. Brooklyn has become a hub of the subculture for those across the world who can follow the scene through social media.
The story begins with the mother of the House, Horrorchata, opening the doors of the House of Bushwig, together with Merrie Cherry, one of the queens chiefly responsible for the growth of the Brooklyn scene. Horrorchata, a first-generation chicano from San Antonia, Texas, deals with the difficulties of laying the foundations of a sisterhood, while simultaneously grappling with the secret she is keeping from her family back in Texas: her drag identity. We follow her back to Texas as she struggles to decide whether or not to come out to her family. Meanwhile, she and Merrie Cherry go head-to-head on house issues and clash on the question of exclusivity in modern House culture. Who can consider themselves a member of the House? How does the House function?
Merrie puts on shows night after night - building the ever-growing drag life in Brooklyn. From game shows, to pageants to award ceremonies, she tells the tale of a professional drag queen who gave up a home, career and family in Berkeley, California, to pursue her passion in New York City. She struggles to stay afloat financially as gentrification and rising real estate prices in Bushwick push her out of her home, but remains resolute in her decision to live on her art.
Elle shares a look at the House from the perspective of a new sister/daughter. A professional dancer for the Metropolitan Opera by day, Elle shows us the meaning of living a double life and the struggles of being a commercial artist, foraying into a grungy sub-culture. We see how Elliot (her boy name) struggles to find love as Elle becomes more and more a part of her life.
As Brooklyn’s new queens explore the contemporary world of drag, Susanna Ventura aka Penny Arcade steps in as cultural historian. She situates the Bushwig Festival and the House in a context of New York City Queer sub-culture of the last 5 decades: from John Vaccaro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous of the 60’s and 70’s to the Wigstock Festival which began in the mid-80’s in the East Village. She defines the stakes and poses key questions - Does Bushwig share the values that were held by its forebears? How will the values of Bushwig evolve over time?
Finally, the major twist, the filmmaker steps out from behind the camera and asks the three to be his drag mothers and teach him the ropes as he aspires to perform in the second annual Bushwig festival. His story guides the narrative and brings the viewer more personally into the scene, offering the opportunity to enter the community vicariously, culminating in his triumphant performance at the second annual Bushwig festival.
Together, Horrorchata, Merrie and Elle show us how Brooklyn has become a thriving drag arts forum in a few short years and we see how sub-culture remains the lifeblood of New York City. It's a story of how performance takes a different stage through raw, grungy and unexplored paths - and how a community becomes a family.
Sisters of the Wicked Wig uses a first-person narrative to delve into the world of drag, in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Questioning gender-stereotypes, the filmmaker Adam Golub enters innumerable nights characterized by flamboyance, color and histrionics to track the sudden growth and evolution of the drag arts community, situating it within the broader context of queer subculture in New York City.
Brooklyn’s drag queens have begun to expand the meaning of the drag arts beyond gender-bending. With performances that draw inspiration from clowns, superheroes and grotesque horror, the queens push the boundaries with more than fiery wigs and exaggerated make-up. Golub soon takes to the heels and follows three prominent members of the community - Horrorchata, Merrie Cherry and Elle Emenope. Using his personal experience with drag and the community, the film exposes the world of drag -- of what it takes to become a drag queen, questioning and redefining myths about the subculture and its evolution.
The explosion of color and raw, uncensored performances are reflected through the film’s verite and experimental styles of shooting and editing. Intentionally shaky footage and visual effects represent the energy of the scene and community unique to Brooklyn. Calling upon a history of a Warholian scene characterized by absurdity that precedes modern drag culture, we see an artform predicated upon causing discomfort and pushing boundaries. Hip-hop and experimental, electronic music accompany scenes showing performers hammering raw cow tongues, burning dolls on stage, coupled with the vulnerable quiet moments of self-discovery and family reconciliation, universalizing the experience of those in this culture.
Adam Golub - Co-Producer
Adam Golub is an Israeli-American filmmaker who began making films when they were still being shot on tape (imagine that!) and had shorts screened at the San Francisco Frameline LGBT Film Festival in 2006 and 2007. He’s told stories of young dancers, shot countless flash mobs, and reported on the water-logged art galleries in post-Sandy New York City. Adam has a particular interest in arts and culture as a measure of a successful and robust society. Likewise, his participation in activist movements against Israeli occupation has reaffirmed his desire to report on injustice in an attempt to foster a more equitable world. He completed is B.A. at UC, Berkeley in Anthropology and recently completed his Masters of Science at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism in the Documentary Film Program. Adam specializes in telling stories that challenge people to see their world differently.
Gayatri Kaul - Co-Producer
Growing up in Kolkata, India, Gayatri was influenced by the copious amounts of music, film, literature she was exposed to. In the truest sense, she is an argumentative Indian. After dabbling successfully in theatre, public speaking, writing and quizzing, she prioritized her passions and set journalism in first place. While pursuing her Bachelor’s in Political Science from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, she worked in the sports industry with the Football Players’ Association of India. She went on to pursuing her Master’s in Broadcast Journalism and Documentary Filmmaking at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Inspired by the likes of Anthony Kiedis, Christopher Nolan, Woody Allen and strangers along the way, she followed a life-long commitment to documentary filmmaking. Sisters of the Wicked Wig is her first endeavor, along with an on-going project on LGBTQ rights in India. Gayatri is now based out of New York City, is a serial instagrammer, and remains zealous about travel, conversation and just about anything unusual.
Shane O' Neill - Editor
Shane O'Neill is a film and video editor living in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently completing post-production on his feature documentary debut, "Following Boruch,” about aHasidic man in recovery from sex and drug addiction. He has edited for the Food Network television show "Chopped," Weight Watchers' webseries "The Untrackables," Lee Camp's political comedy webseries "Moment of Clarity," and fashion website Style Like U’s "Second Skin.” Shane's original multimedia one-man show "Liquid Nonsense" debuted at the LaMama Theater as part of the 2013 Queer New York International Arts Festival. When not editing, he contributes as a columnist to ArtNews New York magazine and performs under the name "Shane Shane." He has a cat named Wanda, a lovely boyfriend named Dusty, and a supportive family--both chosen and by blood--in the Great American Midwest.
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