Eye For Film >> Movies >> Drag Kids (2019) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Jason, Bracken, Stephen and Nemis are four children from different places who have one thing in common: they love to dress up in drag. With the glamorous, shiny costumes, the elaborate make-up, the singing (or miming) and dancing and being the centre of attention, it's easy to see what might attract a child to this, but it's also easy to see why it makes a lot of adults nervous. The shadow of what happened to JonBenet Ramsey still looms large and many people struggle to understand how a child could perform at a pageant without there being a sexual element to it. There's also confusion about the relationship between drag, sexual orientation and gender, leading to the parents and the children themselves being targeted by homophobes and transphobes. This documentary sets out to bring some clarity to the subject by giving viewers the chance to get to know those directly involved.
The first thing you'll notice about these children is how much fun they're having. They're not all naturally outgoing all of the time but something about doing drag massively boosts their confidence. A familiar set of problems attends that. There is never any sense that any of them are being abused or pushed into doing what they're doing, or that they're really taking on too much - beyond the way that, from time to time, all children have to challenge themselves in order to grow. Instead, there's reluctance to put in the work needed to make an impression, there are pre-show nerves and there are tantrums when things don't work out exactly as the kids wanted. The parents handle this with steadfast patience. Adult drag performers look on in sympathy - in this highly emotional environment a lot of them can relate.
The film is structured around the kids getting together for the first time to attend a major drag competition. They're incredibly excited about it. "I definitely want to meet him in person. He deserves to meet me in person too," says one, looking forward to connecting with a kid whose videos he has watched online. Friendships form instantly and look likely to be long-lasting despite the fact that some of the kids will have to compete against each other. Although the focus is on them and not so much their parents, one can see the relief there too - the sense of finally being among people who understand. As the children play, the adults talk about being shouted at by strangers in the street, about filtering out the hate on social media accounts.
Not everything is rosy even within the drag community. Bracken says that she gets people telling her she can't be a drag queen because she's a girl, but she's clear on the distinction between performance and who she is day to day, and when she finally gets to strut her stuff in front of a crowd she does it with a force of personality that immediately puts others in the shade. Of the four, she seems the surest about what she wants to communicate onstage, but all of them have something to say about fierce femininity and freeing themselves from gender stereotypes. What's more, they all have a measure of talent. This is not like sitting through a children's nativity play - the young performers are genuinely entertaining.
As a whole, the community of drag performers and fans is welcoming and supportive, if sometimes reluctant to censor itself for the sake of the children present. There's a sense of joy around the kids' participation that has at least as much to do with their parents. Most people in the scene are LGBT and many have faced rejection by their families, something that director Megan Wennberg captures deftly in passing without going looking for painful stories. Seeing that at least some kids in this generation are growing up with parents who love and support them is an intensely emotional experience. Whatever their sexuality turns out to be when they grow up, the kids are also outsiders, and they are enjoying a freedom to experiment that most of their predecessors could only dream of.
All this serves as a reminder that drag originally developed as a defence mechanism, a means whereby marginalised people could assert themselves so fabulously and fiercely that, for a while at least, nobody would dare to take them on. Although many viewers of this film will have been fortunate enough not to face stigma as adults, the chances are that most will at some point have endured it in the playground. Larger than life though its subject may seem, this is ultimately a film about kids learning how to stand up for themselves, how to be themselves no matter what the world throws at them. Gently paced and never intrusive, it tells their stories through a mixture of observation and interview. Despite the tears and tiaras, there's a quietness about it, an outrageous ordinariness.Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2019