A new iteration A Star is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and directed by Cooper, will be released this week.
It’s the third remake of the original 1937 film of the same name, which itself plagiarised 1932’s What Price Hollywood? The story has a long history with the queer community, both in its camp, melodramatic tragedy, and in its consistent casting of gay icons, first Judy Garland in the 1954 remake, and then Barbra Streisand in 1976’s version.
The latest iteration features queer ally Lady Gaga in the title “star” role, but this time, honours its queer legacy even more directly.
The narrative tells of an aspiring but awkward and shy singer (Gaga as Ally) discovered by a famous but alcoholic celebrity at the end of his career. In this version, Cooper fills the role as country singer Jackson Maine.
But for 2018, Cooper decided that Ally would frequent and be discovered at a gay bar. The film opens with performances by RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni: Shangela as the owner, and Willam as Dolly Parton impersonator Emerald.
Much of their scenes were improvised, bringing an authenticity of the atmosphere and their world to the film.
This creative decision is important for multiple reasons. As well as honouring the camp roots of the original films, it reflects Gaga’s own experiences, both early in her career in New York gay bars and the club scene, and as a vocal and active celebrity ally.
‘Underlying sense of family’
Most importantly of all though, is the representation of love as definitive for the queer community.
As Shangela explains, “Any queen who’s ever worked in a drag bar, or even been in a drag dressing room, knows that underlying all of that is a sense of family… and that’s what Ally was to my character.
“She was my drag daughter… When I call [Ally] my drag baby, it’s true, because there are so many places, drag bars where not only gay boys and transgender people, but also straight girls go.
“You’re like my family and that’s what this scene is all about. It’s establishing where she comes from.
“She was on the outside out there because of the way she looked or whatever, but in here, she was our star.”
RuPaul may have brought mainstream exposure to drag culture, but as is par-for-course in reality television, there is an ugly, shallow undercurrent of contrived conflict that normalises cruelty and ostracisation among our community.
The new A Star is Born reclaims drag culture as a place of love, belonging, acceptance and family – and that’s crucial both to the film and to our mainstream awareness of minority dynamics.
A Star is Born is released nationwide this Thursday, October 18. Watch the trailer below:
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