This Day in Film: “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar”

Published by Smriti Mundhra on Monday, September 10, 2012 at 8:35 am.

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

Before Heath Ledger put playing against A sexual orientation stereotype on the to-do list for every actor chasing an Oscar nomination, Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo took a chance on a little film called To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. In the long-titled film, Snipes, Swayze and Lequizamo played New York City drag queens who embark on a cross-country journey that lands them in small-town Nebraska, where they bring some color, and life lessons, to the locals.  Saturday marked the 17th anniversary of the film.

Unlike its cinematic predecessors Some Like it Hot and Tootsie, in which the cross-dressing characters donned dresses as a campy disguise and much of the humor derives from their discomfort, in To Wong Foo, the three leading ladies put on panty hose, earrings and sequins as a way of staying true to themselves. As Snipes’ ultra-fabulous Noxeema Jackson points out, “When a gay man has way too much fashion sense for one gender, he’s a drag queen.”

The film was mostly panned by critics for being a safe version of it’s Australian predecessor Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but still proved far ahead of it’s time. Even with the LGBT rights movement in full swing, it’s hard to picture more than a handful of A-list actors, as all three leads of To Wong Foo were at the time of it’s release, risking their macho images to play a drag queen.

While neither Snipes, Leguizamo or Swayze were recognized by the Academy Awards (John Leguizamo and the late Patrick Swayze received Golden Globe nods) for their commitment to the challenging roles, the film did receive a GLAAD Award nomination for Outstanding Film.

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