A look inside UMD professor’s “Queen of the Capital” drag documentary

by Philip Van Slooten

A Philip Merrill College of Journalism professor screened his film documenting a D.C. drag performer’s year-long journey through an imperial court competition at Maryland’s Chesapeake Film Festival on Oct. 8.

Journalism professor Josh Davidsburg and former students Alex Glass, Alanna Delfino and Brandi Vincent filmed “Queen of the Capital” about Department of Labor employee Daniel Hays from 2014 to 2015. The film covers Hays performances for a competition and local charities as the big-haired Southern Christian Muffy Blake Stephyns.     

Davidsburg said the film began as Vincent’s multimedia class project in 2014. 

“Brandi was at Capital Pride and saw Muffy’s hair,” he said. “She instantly knew she had to go up and talk to Muffy.”

“If I was going to do drag, then big hair would be my thing,” Stephyns said. “I was down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Pride festival and my hair was high and a student from Maryland approached me and asked if I would like to be the subject for her article. I said yes, and she came back later and asked if she could work with me on a documentary short project.”

Stephyns said yes to that, too. 

At the end of the semester, Davidsburg’s students asked him what he wanted to do besides teach. Davidsburg said he wanted to make a feature-length documentary to which Vincent suggested making one about Stephyns. He agreed and the project was underway.

“Muffy is incredibly charismatic,” Davidsburg recalled. “And the fact that this wasn’t just a documentary about drag but about a group of amazing people who are doing drag for a purpose, to really support the community and help people, drew me in.”

Alex Glass, now a director at Cottage Creative, a Maryland-based video production company, was a journalism senior tapped by Davidsburg to be the director of photography. 

“It’s similar to what I do now,” Glass said. “I direct the image. As a student, [this project] gave me an opportunity to learn what that was.” 

Glass had never worked with the LGBT or drag communities before. 

“The atmosphere was really upbeat,” he said. “It was really open to us and we became good friends with the performers.”

“I think connection to the community is something that so many of our performers have,” Stephyns explained. “Very few people who I’ve ever asked to perform in a benefit show have ever said no. That says something of the quality of the individuals we have.”

The students eventually graduated and began their careers while Davidsburg finalized the project. It premiered at the Newseum last June as part of the Stonewall history exhibit, followed by screenings in Palm Springs and Atlanta. The film was featured in the Chesapeake Film Fest on Oct. 8 and will be screened at D.C.’s REEL Affirmations on Oct. 25 and at the Virginia Film Festival on Oct. 26. 

Davidsburg said audiences have enjoyed the film so far. 

“[People] think D.C. is kind of gray and boring, but it has this really colorful history when it comes to drag,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people who work in D.C. and have seen the film say they never knew this [history] was there.”

Making the film with Maryland students was a memorable experience Davidsburg said he looks forward to enjoying again. 

“The students were awesome,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better crew.”

Next semester, Davidsburg plans to teach a documentary class for journalism majors. But ultimately, he said anyone who wants to make a documentary can start with their smartphones. 

“If you have a project that you’re interested in doing,” Davidsburg said. “Just do it.”

Featured photo courtesy of Josh Davidsburg.

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