2013 SXSW Review: I AM DIVINE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars) 

Divine was born as Haris Glen Milstead in Baltimore, Maryland in 1945.  As a young man, he struggled with coming to terms with his sexual orientation, but during the 60s and 70s, he came out in a huge way and found his calling as a wildly cartoonish and outrageous drag queen.  Divine became the first of her kind. Other drag queens genuinely attempted to perform and appear as real women. Divine was larger than life, though. She set the drag world and the movie world on fire and it would never be the same. Through her stage performances in San Francisco and New York, she became famous in the gay and drag communities.  Through the often unsettling and disturbingly trashy films of John Waters, she became infamous all over the world.

This excellent documentary by director Jeffery Schwarz recounts the life of Milstead, beginning during his early life in Maryland and through his life and career as perhaps the world’s most famous drag queen of the stage and screen.  Schwarz presents archival interviews with Milstead/Divine along with recent interviews with the people closest to her, including John Waters, Divine’s mother Frances Milstead, and co-stars Mink Stole and Tab Hunter. Schwarz does some excellent work presenting a fascinating, insightful and stylish portrait of not just the performer, but the real person underneath.

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