Just in Time for Pride, “To Wong Foo” Returns in a Collector’s Edition

To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar is back and ready for its close-up. And whether you’re Team Priscilla or on the Wong Foo Wagon, the 1995 road trip comedy remains a cultural touchstone.

The film’s rerelease is scheduled to coincide with June’s Pride month by film archivists Shout! Factory. Other titles on the slate include Jeffrey, the story of a man whose AIDS phobia puts him off sex — and the Village People cult classic Can’t Stop the Music.

Jeff Nelson, senior director of marketing for the company, says Wong Foo came to Shout! Factory through an agreement with Universal “in something like a perfect storm.” He says the campy Meryl Streep/Bruce Willis flick Death Becomes Her did so well, “pushing these gay-themed movies out as part of Pride only made good sense. “Plus,” he says, “the movie is totally charming. Some of it is a little dated, sure. But it also is a bit ahead of its time in forecasting how mainstream drag would later become with things like DragCon and RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Capturing a Moment

More importantly, Nelson believes To Wong Foo forever captures a moment in time. “You know, Priscilla came first in 1994. At that time, there wasn’t much LGBTQ representation in media at all. Philadelphia had come out just a few years before, but we were still years away from things like In & Out and Brokeback Mountain.”

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The film revolves around two drag queens, Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) and Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) who tie for top honors in a NYC “Drag Queen of the Year” contest. Together they decide to road trip to Hollywood to compete in the “Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant.” Along for the ride is “drag princess” Chi-Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo), a protégé they initially label simply as the “boy in a dress.”

Some critics grouse that it might have been easier to play a flamboyant drag queen back in the mid-’90s than an actual gay man. Some of the same reviewers also miss the warmth and heart that the trio brings to the screen.

No Guts, No Glory

“It was still risky at the time for all of them,” says Brian Ward, who produced a 50-minute documentary about the film included in this set. “And they all very much wanted to be a part of it. According to the people who were there, Patrick Swayze took it extremely seriously and was in full costume much of the time. And Wesley Snipes? He actually fought for the part. He wanted to show he could do more than kill vampires or play a street thug. He really wanted to demonstrate his range as an actor.”

Fun fact: the director of To Wong Foo, Beeban Kidron, is also a baroness and now a member of England’s House of Lords. “She has been a vocal advocate for the rights of minorities and children’s rights,” Ward says. “And while she was doing that behind the camera early on, she’s now doing it in a much more public way.”

To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar his the shelves May 28.

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Kevin Phinney

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