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Simply Divine

I Am Divine still 10One of the leaders in shock-value, gross-out alternative film is being honoured for their work in the up-coming documentary ‘I am Divine’. Divine is known for her crass performances dressed as a woman, although the star didn’t identify as a drag queen, she pioneered drag queen culture during her legacy on the stage and in film. The biographical feature will be screened at the Revelation International Film Festival.

OUTinPerth spoke to director Jeffrey Schwarz about the process behind the documentary, what he learned about Divine and his work with the respected John Waters – who directed much of Divine’s underground films.

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I Am Divine still 13 producer directorI am Divine’ not only tells the fascinating tale of Divine, the character, but also the man behind it; what led to the decision of giving Harris Glenn Milstead just as much attention as his alter ego?

Divine never considered himself a drag queen. He was an actor who played female parts. He was a fantastic performer, a great actor, and a warm, generous person who couldn’t have been more different from the roles he played. I want people get to know the man behind the glamour, a sweet soft spoken guy with so much love in his heart. I especially want kids who didn’t grow up with him to get to know this amazing character and I’m hoping this will help secure Divine’s legacy for the future.

What was the most interesting thing you discovered about Divine during the process?

I was most surprised to find out more about his relationship with his high school sweetheart, who we interviewed. They dated all through junior high and high school. Divine, who was Glen then, took her to the Prom and treated her so well. He even did her hair and makeup and told her how to dress. She was really smitten with him, in a very sweet high school puppy love kind of way. When he started dressing in drag she was completely unfazed and supportive. They even went to a high school party together with Glen dressed as Elizabeth Taylor. When he started hanging out with John, David Lochary and all the cool Baltimore beatniks, she really felt left behind.

Waters and Milstead pioneered drag queen culture and shocking gross out film, how do you think they helped break down barriers between the straight and queer community with their work?

The LGBT community has always had a complicated relationship with drag. On one hand drag performers are worshiped and adored by gay men, on the other hand they’re not looked upon as the “politically correct” image for straight society to accept us. At this time where the LGBT community is quickly becoming absorbed into mainstream society, I think it’s important to celebrate outsider artists like Divine. It’s always the rebels and the freaks that make life easier for the rest of us. Divine was not outwardly political and didn’t get involved in any gay causes. He wasn’t a poster child for gay liberation. But just by being so outrageous and unique, just by being himself, he empowered everyone who saw him and told them it was okay to be who they were. He ate shit so we don’t have to.

How do you think Divine’s career would have continued were it not for her death?

We’ll never know what would have happened to him after his first taste of mainstream acceptance in ‘Hairspray’. My feeling is that had he lived, today he’d be show business royalty. Maybe it would be Divine’s Drag Race instead of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I hope this film gives him what he wanted in life, to be appreciated and respected and not dismissed as a novelty act.

How do you think the Australian public will receive the story of Divine?

Divine loved Australia and spent a lot of them there touring with his disco act. Many of the fans on our Facebook page are from Australia. So I have a feeling the film will be received well – but if you don’t like it please refrain from sending me a turd in the mail.

‘I Am Divine’ will be screening at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival at Cinema Paradiso on Monday July 8 at 7:00pm, and on Saturday July 13 at Luna Leederville at 11:00pm.

Nadine Walker

This article was originally published on May 30th 2013.

 

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