Ed Popil probably isn’t a name that brings to mind fabulous makeup and wigs and wardrobe. If you pictured “Ed Popil”, you’d probably imagine a blue collar businessman, a father, a regular Joe. And that’s exactly what Ed Popli is, when he isn’t Mrs. Kasha Davis, drag queen and contestant on Rupaul’s Drag Race season seven. Workhorse Queen, a moniker lovingly but mockingly bestowed on Mrs. Kasha Davis during a challenge on Drag Race, is the title of this SLAMDANCE premiering documentary feature directed and written by Angela Washko.
Workhorse Queen celebrates, and sheds shockingly honest light on, the highs and lows of Popil’s career thus far. Nothing is off limits–his personal married life, his unending audition tapes for Drag Race, his abusive father, his addiction–all facets of what led him to find truth in Mrs. Kasha Davis. Humor collides beautifully with touching pathos as a partially made-up Popil describes the parts of Mrs. Kasha Davis that are direct links back to his grandmother. His loving husband, Steven Levins, expresses through tears the way Popil’s alcoholism almost tore them apart. Joy, sorrow, triumph, and crushing loss are all part of the beautiful tapestry that Mrs. Kasha Davis transforms into a coat of many colors.
Not a moment of this documentary falls into the maudlin or depressing–even as the deep pains of Popil’s life are brought to the surface. His relationship with Levins and his children provides a lighthouse of hope for Popil, and an anchor for us as the audience, knowing deeply that ultimately everything will be okay–and there will be laughter and love throughout. Like Popil, Workhorse Queen is humorous, self-deprecating, and genuine from start to finish.
Popil reminds us, through laughter and tears, to be our truest selves–even if that changes the way that people see us. Genuine self-love is radical, and exceedingly simple, and Popil grants it to himself in spades, only after a lifetime of fighting. Maybe Mrs. Kasha Davis is what got him there. Perhaps, putting on the face and wardrobe of a New York housewife who believes it’s always time for a cocktail unlocked a part of his heart that hated the little boy who didn’t fit in. Slowly, gently, he removes the pressures placed on him by his father, the sadness of losing his mother to addiction, the disappointment of losing Drag Race. Like he removes his makeup at the end of a show–the pain all washes away, and at the end of the day, Popil is happy with exactly who he is–and teaches us to love ourselves a little bit stronger, too.
Workhorse Queen premiered at Slamdance 2021.
8 out of 10