Gay Essential Review: Alaska is a Drag at BFI Flare

From its crystal blue waters to its icy peaks, Alaska is the only state that offers new and intriguing surprises around every bend. A prize-fighting drag queen is just one of those surprises.

Shaz Bennet’s film, Alaska is a Drag, is part comedy, part LGBT coming of age story. Hopelessly trapped in Alaska after being deserted by their mother, Leo (Martin L. Washington Jr.) and his twin sister Tristen (Maya Washington) are drifting through life, awaiting either the return of their mother or their big break into stardom, whichever comes first. By day, Leo works in a local fish cannery, relieving salmon of their heads and scales and deflecting frequent acts of machismo and gay bashing from his co-workers. But when the sun goes down, Leo and Tristen dream of being superstar performers, as they sip Jack and Coke at the only gay bar within 100 miles.

Alaska is a Drag

One afternoon, a new guy (Matt Dallas) shows up at the fish cannery and catches Leo’s eye. After their shift ends, Leo heads out behind the plant to walk home, only to find himself surrounded by his former best friend and a small group of guys who want to beat up the gay kid. Leo, however, defends himself expertly, catching the attention of both the cannery boss (Jason Scott Lee) and the new guy in town, Declan. Leo is quickly introduced to his boss’ amateur boxing gym, where he proves his jab and right cross are almost as fierce as his one-two combo of shadow and eyeliner.

Shaz Bennet weaves a delightful story of a fish out of water, with excellent dialogue and character development along the way. Leo and Tristen are arguably far too fabulous and cultured to be living in rural Alaska. Equally fabulous is a surprise guest appearance by the talented comedienne, Margaret Cho, who plays the owner of what appears to be the only gay bar in Alaska. The only disappointment being Ms. Cho could have used a few more lines.

When word of a drag competition comes around, Jan (Cho) is happy to host the event in her bar. Tristen urges Leo to participate because, as she is the only one who has seen him perform, she knows he could win and get a ticket out of Alaska. Leo is overjoyed at the prospect, but things get difficult when a major boxing match is scheduled for the same day.

The use of juxtaposition in Bennet’s work is refreshing, as Leo is sent tumbling head first into the glamorous world of drag and the bloodied, tough-as-nails world of boxing at the same time. The needle is carefully threaded, as Leo’s speed and foot movement on stage becomes one of his strongest assets in the ring. Martin L Washington’s Leo glides effortlessly from bruises to rouge and back again.

Alaska is a Drag leaves a somewhat open-ended conclusion, with the audience wondering what is next for these wonder twins and their newest friend Declan. Perhaps they simply just wish to swim against the current with strength and grace, much like the mighty Alaskan salmon.

3 stars

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Dave Croyle

Dave Croyle

Dave Croyle is an advertising and marketing professional with a knack for building ideas and getting things done. Throughout his career he has written and produced creative work for a variety of brands, big and small. As a history buff and art geek, Dave is passionate about exploring cultures and seeing the world. Dave resides in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife and two dogs.