WORKHORSE QUEEN Directed by Angela Washko
USA I 2021 I Documentary I 88 minutes
After an unlikely casting onto a reality television show, 47-year old suburban telemarketer Ed Popil leaves his job to pursue a full-time entertainment industry career as his drag queen alter ego, 1960’s era housewife Mrs. Kasha Davis.
WORKHORSE QUEEN – an intimate exploration, through a tender mix of touching moments and wise-cracking humor, of the complexities of reality television’s impact on queer performance culture? Told from the perspective of the overlooked yet beloved Queen Mrs. Kasha Davis, WORKHORSE QUEEN focuses on the growing divide between members of a small town drag community – those who have been on television, and those who have not.
Director Angela Washko’s directorial debut follows Mrs. Kasha Davis as she navigates the exciting highs and devastating lows of pursuing the fame promised by a reality television platform. With one foot inching toward Hollywood’s doorstep and the other cemented firmly within her beloved Rochester community, Mrs. Kasha Davis finds a surprising new audience at home as she works toward becoming the queer role model for children that Ed didn’t have and desperately wanted growing up.
“It has been an incredible journey documenting Ed Popil/Mrs. Kasha Davis, said Washko. “He stood out to me because it felt like there was so much more to his story and he represented a larger community of drag queens who don’t quite fit the mold of what reality television wants from its participants.”
In addition to Mrs. Kasha Davis, the film also includes the voices and perspectives of drag queen celebrities who have been on RuPaul’s Drag Race, such as superstar Bianca Del Rio, Darienne Lake, Tatianna, and Pandora Boxx, as well as leaders in subversive performance communities around the world, and drag queens who reject or who have been rejected by the reality tv platform.
WORKHORSE QUEEN will hold its World Premiere at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival, with fest play to continue throughout the year.
SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Virtual Screening Information
Friday, Feb. 12
By day, Ed Popil worked as a telemarketer in Rochester, New York for 18 years. By night, he transformed into drag queen Mrs. Kasha Davis, a 1960’s era housewife trying to liberate herself from domestic toil through performing at night in secret –an homage to Ed’s mother. After seven years of auditioning to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ed Popil was finally cast onto the tv show and thrust into a full-time entertainment career at the late age of 44. Workhorse Queen explores the complexities of reality television’s impact on queer performance culture by focusing on the growing divide between members of a small town drag community – those who have been on television, and those who have not.
Following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, I watched episodes of the reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race on repeat every day for a year. I was scared that the progress that had been made in terms of media representation of gender and sexuality might be erased under Trump’s regime and took comfort in watching drag queens perform on mainstream television. It was this concern that inspired the making of Workhorse Queen, which began as an investigation into how mainstream media has impacted broader cultural understandings of gender and sexuality.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has transformed queer performance culture in a way that few reality television shows have impacted their respective fields. Through the process of making this film, I discovered an incredible wealth of varying perspectives on the ways in which the commercialization of drag has impacted queer performance communities and participants. It became important to me that this film is not just a portrait of famous drag queens –it is a critical commentary on reality television’s impact on a subversive subculture, including many complicating voices –drag queens who have been on the show, drag queens who have auditioned year after year and been rejected by the show, drag legends from all over the world who have shunned the platform, club promoters, obsessed fans, and members of local small-town queer communities.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has created a template for how to become a mainstream celebrity as a drag queen, something that was almost unheard of before the show startedin 2009. However, that model of celebrity is not a comfortable fit for every performer. An unlikely contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ed Popil (aka Mrs. Kasha Davis) is a 47-year-old former call center manager in suburban Rochester who offers unique insights into the impact of the show and became the point of view that the film follows. As Ed moves away from RuPaul’s Drag Race being the only validating and sustainable platform for his unique persona, he has become the queer role model for kids that he always wished he had growing up in a conservative family in Scranton, Pennsylvania (an upbringing that contributed to him marrying and divorcing a woman and not coming out as gay until nearly the age of 30). Watching Ed Popil/Mrs. Kasha Davis’ journey toward creating local theater shows for children in Rochester, New York has been inspiring. Although Drag Race has helped him commit to becoming a full-time entertainer late in his life, after a painful up-and-down journey he has realized that his value as an artist should not be determined by his popularity and success on that platform.
As a woman frequenting the often very male-dominated spaces of drag clubs, it also became important to me that the film additionally examines drag queens’ relationshipsto women and femininity –exploring how Mrs. Kasha Davis and other drag queens frequently channel women’s experiences into their own performance works as well as the unexpected inspiration that young women have found in drag queens as a result of broader television visibility. In making this film, it has been essential to assemble a team of socially concerned and experienced women, trans, non-binary and queer experts in the film industry who are passionate about issues of queer representation and media to work with. As a politically-engaged feminist media artist working in a variety of forms, I am committed to telling complex and unconventional stories about the media we consume from unusual perspectives. I think the impact of reality television on queer representation and subversive queer subculture is an important and under-examined topic in our contemporary moment and the driving motivation behind making Workhorse Queen, my first feature-length documentary film.