As I watched the Pride flag waving as the credits ran at the end of The Beauty President, I remembered growing up in the early 2000s and how I knew nothing about what that flag meant then. That 20 years later, I can see it at my city’s town hall flying next to the United States flag. Director Whitney Skauge and the film’s subject, Terrance Alan Smith, bring a beautiful historical moment in LGBTQ+ history to the forefront with an air of grace and love that I hope everyone could see.
The short film plays as an interview of Smith as he reflects on his drag queen persona, Ms. Joan Black, when she ran for President in 1992 as a write-in candidate. Smith shares how what once started as humorous catharsis in response to how the queer community was being treated at the time, blossomed into a beacon of political protest that brought more attention to the causes than he originally thought possible. The film elevates Smith’s commentary interspersed with old clips of Joan Black doing a performance, speaking with people on the street, and speaking on issues affecting the LGBTQ+.
One wonderful sequence was when Joan Black is asked about how she feels having people react to her in negative ways as she walks past them down the street and she only replies that it is their problem to not see just how beautiful she is. This statement is all over this film and it’s what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ+. Queerness is beautiful and you can try to ignore it, but it isn’t going away. It can not be ignored.
This all culminates with the 1992 Democratic Convention where we hear the hilarious retelling of how Smith and his friends had to hide in a bathroom stall to get dressed as Joan Black before entering onto the actual floor of the convention. Once Joan Black was inside and the cameras saw her they no longer were watching the Democratic nominee, all eyes were on Miss Black. The footage of her being interviewed struck a cord with me personally. As someone who is an LGBTQ+ ally, watching Joan Black speak on stopping wars and providing free healthcare as her political platform in 1992, showed how much of this fight we are still trying win.
Now I understand how that can feel disheartening and even discouraging, but Smith softens that fear when he describes that he learned that these stories should be passed down generations. To show how much those before him fought to give him and his generation more space to be themselves than the previous generation had and how he is doing it for the generation after him. I look at the back at that flag waving at the end credits and remember I didn’t see that growing up but now its hung high.
The Beauty President is a wonderful short film that celebrates and gives flowers to those who came before and helps to remind us that even though the fight continues, we are winning.