Film is a beautiful thing when it gives voice to the typically voiceless and educates while entertaining. Check all three of those important boxes with Michael Sligman (first film, producer on RuPaul’s Drag Race) and Jennifer Tiexiera’s (first film but experienced film editor) documentary, P.S. Burn This Letter Please. The American film was initially released in 2020 where it was part of the Tribeca Film Festival and came about after the filmmakers found a box of hundreds of letters dating back to the 1950s. The letters gave insight into the largely unknown history of female impersonation (as it was called at the time) or drag queens. Once the letters were read and it was realized what an important find they were, a five year voyage into the history they revealed began.
The focal point here is the New York City drag community’s origins. That origin leads us on a cross-United States trek to listen to interviews by those involved in the early days. Interviewees are all getting on in age being in their 80s and 90s now. Tales of the New York City club scene during the 50s and on ensues.
Trans-awareness is something that is sorely lacking within the general public. A film like this is vital to correct that. That is done via interviews with those on the ground floor (drag queens involved in the young scene) along with archival footage and those hundreds of letters, which were found in 2014, being narrated in order to flesh out the story.
The letters, that were sent to Reno Martin who knew many drag queens of the era, give an intimate portrait of the daily lives of drag queens during those decades. What they were preoccupied with and what they hoped for. The 1950s and 1960s were dangerous times for drag queens. Men who dressed in women’s clothing or worked as female impersonators faced jail time. At that time it was against the law for men to wear women’s clothing outin in public. The government and police forces were looking to wipe out the drag queen population. Still they survived. Then history attempted to erase them and still they forged on. This is a bringing out of the shadows, their story.
Things are said here that, I am sure, not many knew before. Surprisingly, some of the older drag queens tell of how the clubs they frequented were run by the mafia. The mafia which allowed them to frequent their clubs in the Manhattan area
Inspiring is how you can describe the people involved in this documentary. Decades later they are still fighting and not backing down. They are who they are. They are proud of it. The ones who drag queens (who are not celebrated on popular shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race) and trans people who should thank for what they have. Though it should not be mistaken for believing the fight is over. Far from it. Trans people still face prejudice and violence at alarming rates.
A doc which shows drag queens for what they are – human. The film is at times funny, educational and heartbreaking. Really eye opening in regards to the life these drag queens were forced to lead and what heroes/heroines they are. Important that they and the letters tell their own tale.