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By opening with climactic footage from the 1968 film The Queen, a brand new documentary from free queer streaming service Revry, The Queens, demonstrates right up front that it is very much an ode to the revered original, even right down to its title.
The original doc, a pioneering drag documentary by Frank Simon, focused on queens Sabrina and young protege Harlow as they navigated the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest. Though Harlow ended up winning the crown, the true star of the film was the legendary Miss Crystal LeBeija -- the third runner up who infamously stormed off the stage and passionately protested the decision in front of filmmaker's cameras.
"She looked bad!" yells Alaska Thunderfuck, giving her best LaBeija impersonation along with fellow queen Manila Luzon. "Look at her makeup -- it's terrible!"
The scene shows the two continuing to riff LaBeija-isms and squeal with laughter as they ride the tour bus post-performance, exhausted and wigless, but still in full make-up. The Queens, which chronicles over two years of the magical yet often grueling life of a working drag queen, focuses primarily on four seasoned performers: Alaska Thunderfuck, Sharon Needles, Jinkx Monsoon, and Katya Zamolodchikova.
"Well, I think the more compelling movie to watch is not when, OK, the end of the pageant comes, the winner is announced and everyone shakes hands and, 'Oh, good job to you,'" says Alaska with her famously languid valley-girl drawl, in a voiceover during this opening sequence. "The more compelling movie to watch is the bitch who thought she should have won, and doesn't win, and gets mad and rips the fucking wig off the other girl and storms offstage and throws a fit."
These days the star is known to most simply as Alaska (after his cannabis-inspired moniker had to be censored for TV), but previous stage names also include Alaska 5000 and the combined Alaska Thunderfuck 5000. However, he was born as Justin Andrew Honard in Erie, Penn., in 1985, where he admits in The Queens that he'd being bullied and "called a fag" in his youth.
The world first came to know and love Alaska while competing on season 5 of RuPaul's Drag Race and the second season of Drag Race All Stars (which he won). Alaska quickly became a fan favorite for his quirky and clever sense of humor, as well as his creativity and polish on the runway.
Alaska's love for LaBeija's "terrible makeup" line was evident even then, as he used it to win a major challenge on RPDR and also turned it into a catchy hit song, "Your Makeup is Terrible." But despite his love for a juicy backstory, this beloved performer admits he is still quite reserved when it comes to exposing his own vulnerabilities. In fact, Alaska's official bio is complete space alien drag fantasy with absolutely no real-life personal facts about the star.
"Its completely harder," he tells The Advocate of starring in a documentary versus performing onstage in drag. "It's completely not my comfort zone because I like to... be in control of things. I come from the theater, so I like it being: curtain up, this is what we want you to see, we have a reason for showing it to you, and then the curtain comes down, and that's it. So having a camera in my face and, you know, I'm just going about my day... and I'm like, 'You don't understand, my life is dreadfully boring!' So it's very like unnatural and uncomfortable for me to have a camera follow me around and for me to try to be entertaining."
Though we do get a deeper glimpse into just who this Justin Honard person is, he still manages to keep us somewhat at arm's length emotionally. In fact, there always seems to be a subtle but consistant sadness that lays safely under Alaska's perfectly polished exterior. Even the bullying he touches on isn't gone into much more in The Queens than what's noted above. However, since filming actually dates back to 2016, just after Alaska's win on All Stars, we do see him grappling with some of the negative backlash that came due to a somewhat uncharacteristic, diva-ish meltdown that occurred during the series.
"I mean now I look back on it and it's funny... I mean it's hilarious that it was such a big deal to me -- but it was a really huge deal to me at the time. It's crazy how much time can change things... I guess it was like I had a lot of illusions about it was to be on RPDR. And I saw it from a very one-sided perspective, and then I completely, pretty much overnight, saw it completely turn the other direction. So in a way, I mean, like, it liberated me and I no longer have false illusions about that."
So, after doing drag for over a decade, winning a major reality competition series (not to mention countless other TV and film appearances), performing in multiple drag tours, putting out hit singles ("This Is My Hair"), creating an iconic sidekick character (Lil' Poundcake) and catch-phrase (Hiiieee!), and becoming basically one of the most beloved drag queens in the world -- does he ever think about hanging up his wig and heels?
"Well, it's definitely just a matter of finding a balance and, you know, that can be said for any kind of job," he explains. "If you are focusing too much on your work, then your personal life kind of goes to shit -- and that's not cool, that's not good. I want make sure I'm showing up for the people I'm really close to and my family, and so finding a balance is really important. But I don't want to quit drag at all. I want to be 90 years old and I want them to prop me up in the doorway and have hot dudes dance around me like Mae West. I really do!"
The Queens is available for free on Revry.tv or catch it streaming during primetime hours on Man Crush Mondays and Drag Thursdays on the Revry Pluto TV Channel 649.