Essential viewing for queer history buffs, this biopic of groundbreaking cultural anthropologist and butch icon Esther Newton fittingly mixes the personal and the political, tracking Newton’s present from academic conferences to dog shows, and illustrating her past with photos and archival footage. As a participant-investigator of gay life, Newton expanded her own discipline and broke ground for queer studies, writing about drag in 1972’s Mother Camp, queer spaces in Cherrie Grove, and investigating herself in the memoir My Butch Career. Anthropologists, ex-girlfriends, and a who’s who of genderqueer intellectuals—including Gayle Rubin, Amber Hollibaugh, and Jack Halberstam—help flesh out this multi-faceted portrait.
Scampering through the film are the many dogs Newton shares with current partner Holly Hughes. “Dog people are loonies,” says Newton, proving it when she keeps competing in dog shows despite a collapse. Whether training a puppy or critiquing an exhibit on camp sensibility for stripping its gay context, Newton shines as a pre-Stonewall survivor so far ahead of her time that she’s pertinent today.
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