Why To Wong Foo Keeps it Real 20 Years Later

A scene from "To Wong Foo."

A scene from “To Wong Foo.”

Twenty years ago this week, To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, the memorable movie about three drag queens—Vida Boheme(the dearly departed Patrick Swayze), Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) and Chi Chi Rodriguez(John Leguizamo)—who embark on the road trip of our lives, opened at the box office and made its mark on pop culture…forever.

Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment produced the film, which went on to strut its way to #1 and ended up snatching a $36 million final take, which is about $70 million in today’s diva dollars. Not only did To Wong Foo welcome drag into the mainstream, but it’s also a film that everyone can enjoy as its humor and tenderness still stays fabulously true even two decades later.

While at its very best, TWF is a gay-themed flick, but more than that it has something for everybody amongst its high-heeled humor and heart. To commemorate this oh, so ravishing red-and-wild occasion, I came up with 5 reasons as to why not you, not me, but to why everybody should experience this wonderful film at least once in their lifetime.

1. It’s blessed with a brilliant cast…

Besides it’s three luscious leading ladies, err, gentlemen, TWF‘s supporting cast is also certainly worthy of a hat day with the girls. Among its fierce roster of talent is Stockard Channing as battered desperate-housewife-turned-drag queen, Carol Ann. The iconic Blythe Danner is supreme as feisty Beatrice, and ’90s heartthrob Jason London is absolutely adorable playing Ms. Chi Chi’s savior, Mr. Bobby Ray.

There’s also a shimmering helping of cameos along the Cadillac way, including drag legends Coco Peru, The Lady Bunny and Ms. Rupaul playing the one-and-only, Rachel Tensions. Supermodel diva Naomi Campbell also pops up asking Ms. Noxeema how she can be as beautiful as she is, (“aww sweetie, you can’t.”), And of course Ms. Newmar making her grand appearance at the end is always a real movie treat.

But the fiercest cameo belongs to Robin Williams as John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, in which we all know, his name will always be our name, too.

2. It’s a ’90s cult classic…

If the ’90s gave us anything, it’s that cult classic films from the beloved decade (Clueless, Empire Records, The Craft, Pulp Fiction, just to name a few) rocked our worlds. Another one of those classic films is the indie drag comedy, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which also showed its cult legs and ultimately lent a wig in helping get To Wong Foo to the more mainstream big screen. Thanks in part to the heat of Priscilla, TWF also showed its long legs in achieving great buzz after it left theaters in late ’95, also winding up on many critics favorite movies year-end lists.

What makes a film a cult classic is that its audience just keeps growing and growing over the years. And much like its drag movie mother, Priscilla (which turned 20 last year), there are many of us who’ve seen the impact that both of these films have had and can indeed pass their knowledge and whip smart dialogue to those who might not have reveled in both films’ fierceness just yet, and that’s the best part of it all.

3. It’s all dolled up with a fabulous soundtrack…

Of course, inside every shimmering movie comes with it an even greater soundtrack-and TWF‘s insatiable collection of timeless ditties is no exception. Among the many, many legendary artists who are featured, Cyndi Lauper adds a rewiring of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” The Commodores take us on the groove train with their classic, “Brick House,” and Philly-based dance divas Crystal Waters and Patti LaBelle show up to serve us with their respective anthems, “Who Taught You That,” “Over The Rainbow” and “Turn It Out.”

But the greatest movie moment comes right from the very beginning when Salt-N-Pepa kick things off with, “I Am The Body Beautiful,”which bumps-and-grinds as the opening groove that accompanies Ms. Veda and Auntie Noxee while they get painted and dragged up for their lives.

Seeing Mr. Swayze and Mr. Snipes in full on transformation mode is a priceless movie moment that we will never forget anytime soon.

4. The underlying themes of the film still hold their relevance today…

While there are many messages we can take away with us after a TWF romp, the one message that stands out most is that of acceptance. When the gals first strutted into Snydersville, there’s no doubt that the town certainly threw major shade their way, but after everyone took the time to see who the fierce divas that they really were and actually learned a thing or two from them, the people of Snydersville fully accepted the ladies in all of their Strawberry Social glory. It’s a message that still holds its relevance today that no matter who you meet, always try to learn or thing or two from them—you never know what knowledge you’re going to acquire, especially when it comes from the gals of To Wong Foo.

But of course, we simply just can’t leave out the delightful end of the movie when Ms. Chi Chi is crowned Best Drag Queen of America by Ms. Newmar, showing us how she worked hard to complete the four steps from being a “boy in a dress” to a full-fledged queen. It just goes to show that a little hard werk certainly goes a long way.

5. It’s a movie that just makes you feel good all the way around…

If you’re looking to escape the post-Labor Day doldrums (which we all are), press play on To Wong Foo. Besides being wonderfully sewn together, it’s just a great movie that will leave you feeling good, groovy and absolutely fabulous–and that is certainly something we could all use right now while we’re still getting the sand out of our skirts and shorts from summer.

But perhaps the main thing we can away with after a To Wong Foo romp is that at the end of the day, always remember, you are a drag queen.