AND WHERE IS THE BODY…
It is almost inconceivable to believe that it has already been almost 22 years since John Leguizamo, Wesley Snipes and the late Patrick Swayze introduced the world to the irrepressible and legendary drag queens, Vida Boheme (of the Manhattan Bohemes), Noxeema Jackson (Jesse’s daughter) and Chi Chi Rodriguez (the Latina Marilyn Monroe)! In 1995, “To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything – Julie Newmar” graced the screens of major theaters across the country to mixed reviews and moderate box office success. However since its release, it has become a cult classic to so many across the world and it has become a must-watch for drag aficionados. “To Wong Foo” follows Vida, Noxeema and Chi Chi on a whirlwind roadtrip from New York to Hollywood to compete for the ‘Drag Queen of the Year’ crown. And when their car break down in the small town in the middle of nowhere and they end up having to spending a couple nights in said town, the town begins to embrace the new strangers and allow their town to be transformed by them.
I remember being in a small town and going to the theater to see this film when it first came out. I can recall seeing these men who epitomized masculinity at the time transform into smart, sassy and beautiful creatures before my very eyes during the opening credits and I was instantly mesmerized by their seemingly flawless metamorphoses. As a quirky 11 year old who knew that he was particularly different, I intently watched the queens’ adventures unfold and the film quickly became more than just a funny and campy movie; it became a guide on living ‘the outrageous outlook and abdominal spirit that it would take to make you a full fledged queen.’
The lessons this movie has taught me have helped me through so many moments in my life, whether it was the nurturing kindness of Vida, the headstrong attitude of Noxeema or the audacious tenacity of Chi Chi. Each one of the main characters possess qualities to be admired and honored. Their bravery and integrity to face the world in full face and grace are enough to consider them superheroes. Including the legendary “4 steps to becoming a queen”, here are my takeaways from the film and feel free to share your experiences and thoughts as well!!!
“Noxeema, we must all help others.”
As Vida and Noxeema tie the pageant and attempting to console a devastated Chi Chi, Vida proceeds to remind Noxeema of a time when she was helped by Vida and how that journey brought the success she was currently enjoying. Vida’s speech on the importance of kindness and community shaped a great deal of how I approach those who may be more dire straits than myself. We are all in this together and no one makes it on their own. And how bland would our lives be without the line, “Little latin boy in drag, why are you crying?!”
“We must take this message from Miss Newmar across the land with us as our sovereign token.”
After deciding to drive cross country so they can take Chi Chi along with them to Hollywood, Vida stumbles upon a black and white photograph of Julie Newmar during the height of the fame as ‘Catwoman’ and finds inspiration in the picture. Sometimes when you have a major goal or dream you are trying to realize, it helps to have something to keep you motivated and focused. Maybe a sovereign token would have helped Naomi Campbell become more beautiful than Noxeema!
“Vida gave all of this up to be Vida”
As our three heroines make their way across the country, they come across Vida’s hometown. In one pivotal, silent yet powerful moment, it is eluded that Vida faced a harsh and painful reality that so many LGBT+ people face when coming out, excommunication and exile from their families. Not only does particular that scene make you admire Vida’s courage and integrity but it teaches that your loyalty to yourself will always be worth more than your loyalty to anyone else.
“Maybe I’m not just a boy in a dress…”
After being read for filth on her lack of experience in being a drag queen by Noxeema, the duchess of protocol, Chi Chi tries to dismiss herself in spite before Vida convinces her to stay by giving her the title of a ‘drag princess’. The beauty of this moment in Chi Chi’s stubbornness to see herself as something more than her peers perceived. She refused to deny the specialness she possessed in the face of judgment. She even reinvented how to spell ‘princess’; “P to the R to the N to the S”!
“Step 1 to becoming a queen: let good thoughts be your sword and shield.”
After saying a prayer of gratitude and guidance, Noxeema applauds and affirms Chi Chi for putting positive energy into the universe. The truth is that God, the universe, the Source, etc. is always listening and if you put positive energy out there, it is bound to come back to you. The basic law of attraction: the ultimate accessory!
“Get with the program, mijas! No one is so rich as to throw away a friend!”
Once the ladies stop to consider a place to stay for the night, Chi Chi takes it upon herself to figure out their lodging situation against Vida’s instructions. But they end up staying at a hotel that is hosting a women’s basketball tournament. They blend themselves in with the taller, more muscular women and they play with them. You never know who you are going to meet or, more importantly, who you will need on any given day so it pays to be nice to everyone you meet.
“Step 2 to becoming a queen: ignore adversity.”
Chi Chi reached her second milestone to utter fabulousness after helping her fellow queens hustle their way into a free hotel stay, the big takeaway being to find a way to make things work, even if it may seem unforeseeable.
“Operation decorator storm”
At this point, our queens have left an unconscious policeman on the side of the road after he tried to have his way with Miss Vida and their car has broken down at a rest stop, forcing them to spend the weekend in the sleepy, small town of Snydersville. So to make their hotel room feel more like home, they take some of their shiny belongings and redecorate the whole place to match their glamorous inhabitants. The lesson here? Make yourself at home wherever you are.
“Well conversely, some men need to be hit back.”
Staying at Virgil and Carol-Ann’s hotel, the queens, particularly Vida, have noticed Virgil’s abusive treatment of Carol-Ann. After the queens themselves finish arguing, Vida steps in and confronts Virgil about his behavior which doesn’t bode well for him. It makes the strong statement about the importance of standing up for others when they are unable or unaware of how to stand up for themselves. And thankfully, Miss Vida works out. Alot!
“Absolutely Step 3: abide by the rules of love.”
The ever-so thirsty Chi Chi finds herself making a connection with one of the locals, knowing that he is involved with another woman in town. But her conscious convicts her to rethink things and she willingly steps out of the two locals’ way to let them be together. It proved that the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing to do but it is always worth it in the end. And it never pays to play games with people’s’ hearts and minds.
After getting into a heated argument earlier, Chi Chi and Vida humbly offer heartfelt apologies for the horrible things they said. It is proof that anytime anyone eats humble pie in front of you, it always best to share a slice.
“I am going to make Hollywood wherever I am at.”
After the entire town stands up for the queens against the unconscious policeman from earlier who had been trying to hunt them down, Noxeema realizes how right Vida was about taking chances on trusting people. She also realizes that it is not a place that makes you feel special but the joy you bring to yourself that makes you feel special.
“My name is Miss Vida Boheme and your approval is not needed but I will take your acceptance.”
It is rather that Vida is amazing at standing up for others but the one person she wasn’t standing up for was Miss Vida. And with the support of her fellow travelers, she makes plans to confront her past and give her family a chance to accept her as is. This is easily the most powerful moment of the movie because it shows every person who has been ostracized or outcasted by someone they love and trusted how to stand up to those individuals with compassion and grace.
“Step 4: larger than life is just the right size!”
The queens make it Hollywood! And with Vida and Noxeema’s ingenue accepting the ‘Drag Queen of the Year’ crown from Miss Julie Newmar herself! The running theme of the entire film is encapsulated in the fourth step. No matter what how many people are telling you that you’re too ‘extra’, you are exactly who you are supposed to be.
This movie has stood the test of time for good reason. Its life lessons and one-liners are just as relevant as they were over 22 years ago. The characters are lush, powerful and relatable in both their imperfections and redemptions. They are archetypes that rival the ‘Sex and the City’ ladies and the ‘Golden Girls’. May we all be as kind and nurturing as Vida, vivacious and strong as Noxeema and saucy and resilient as Chi Chi!