COLLEGE PARK (6/25/19) — Daniel Hays didn’t expect to be the star of a documentary film. But his alter ego, the fabulous Muffy Blake Stephyns, loved the sound of it.
“Ask a drag queen if she wants to have a camera follow her around for a while,” Hays said in a recent interview. “She’ll say ‘sure.’ … Quite honestly, I didn’t think it would ever be a movie.”
Hays — Muffy — is the subject of “Queen of the Capital,” the first documentary by University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism faculty member Josh Davidsburg ‘01. The film premieres Saturday at the Newseum in conjunction with its exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn protests, a catalyst for the gay rights movement.
Davidsburg and a team of Merrill College alumni followed Hays for more than a year as his drag persona ran for empress of the Imperial Court of Washington, D.C. The court raises money for local organizations that support the LGBT community, HIV/AIDS services organizations, social service organizations and youth enrichment programs.
The project was born from a class assignment: After Brandi Vincent ‘15 interviewed Muffy at D.C. Pride, she suggested Davidsburg — who was seeking a documentary project — meet the drag queen.
Sold on Muffy’s dynamic personality, Davidsburg recruited Alexander Glass ‘14 as director of photography and Alanna Delfino ‘15 to join Vincent as a producer. Filming began in 2014, followed by more than four years of fundraising and post production.
The film explores the history of drag in Washington and lifts the curtain on an elegant group of performers who care deeply for their community.
“They’re not professional drag queens,” Davidsburg said. “They do it for charity, and so they give a ton back to the community. … They have day jobs, too, and because it’s D.C., a lot of them work for the government.”
Hays’ day job is at the U.S. Department of Labor. The documentary cameras followed him there, to New York City to shop for gowns, to intimate drag family dinners and to ornate court events.
The result, Glass said, is “a pretty unencumbered view of the drag queen community. … We spent our time trying to make things as accurate and representative as possible.”
Hays said it was easy to open his life up to Davidsburg and his crew, even when his struggle with mental and physical illnesses became part of the story.
“It was exceedingly open and honest,” Hays said. “I watched the film four times, and I cry each time.”
Hays plans to attend the premiere. He’ll watch the film with a large audience for the first time before participating in post-screening panel discussion with his drag mentor — or drag mother — Shelby Jewel Stephyns.
“I got a brand new gown, a new whig’s been made,” Hays said. “I probably also will put a package of tissues in my purse.”