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‘Love letter to my younger self:’ ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ star Lady Camden shares her life in new film

"Lady Like" invites viewers into the fabulous world of drag through the captivating lens of Lady Camden.
Photo provided my Milwaukee Film
"Lady Like" invites viewers into the fabulous world of drag through the captivating lens of Lady Camden.

If you’re a fan of the popular reality TV show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, or simply admire the art of drag, you might be interested in the documentary, Lady Like.

The film is showing this week as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival and follows the story of London-born, San Francisco-based drag queen Lady Camden as she’s catapulted into the spotlight on Season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

It also takes an intimate look at Camden’s life as she learns to navigate the glitz and unglamorous moments that come with newfound fame while coming to terms with the troubling childhood experiences she left behind in London.

To learn more about the making of this film, Camden spoke with Lake Effect’s Xcaret Nuñez.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Lady Like is a beautiful documentary that explores your life before, during and after your season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Why did you and the director Luke Willis decide to make this film? 

Luke and I both come from a ballet theatre background, we both had careers on stage, before his career in filmmaking, and before my explosion of Lady Camden. We'd already been working on little mini-films together throughout my season, we were working on content for Instagram, so that we could have fun things to post during the progression of my season, just because we both like to do that kind of stuff. We both nerd out on creating mini, sort of narrative, videos. And in doing so, we were just creating a lot of quality content, and having a good time together. So I think that Luke already had in the back of his mind that he wanted to do a feature-length film maybe involving me [and] involving this sort of theatrical element to it.

When I was talking to him candidly about ballet — why it's important to me and how I found a safe space within the ballet world after getting bullied, like a lot of queer kids sort of experience at school. Ballet was the first safe space for me, it was the first time I could feel super feminine, and not be ridiculed for that. It was finally then that I realized I don't need a reason to dance, it just makes me happy. It makes me feel safe.

I think [Luke Willis] related to that story from his own experiences, which is why he kind of got inspired to start following my journey, because I think he started to relate to it more than he realized.

This documentary is much more than your journey through RuPaul’s Drag Race — it's very personal to your life. How was filming it? How did you build trust with Luke and let your walls down?

I'm not gonna lie. It's definitely a weird, awkward experience to have someone following you around with a camera and ask you personal questions. I'm getting better, but I'm not very good at being organized with my thoughts under pressure. So I think that during the airing of my season, and a lot of [RuPaul's Drag Race] queens’ experience this, there's just an influx of attention and texts and emails and needs and wants. A lot of people need your attention and need something done from you, or are asking a lot of you. And if you're not used to that, it's a lot.

So I think [Willis] filming me during all that process… I'm not gonna lie. I didn't love every second of it. Sometimes I wanted to just be alone. But I think because I knew Luke prior to this, and I've gotten to know how sensitive of a person Luke is, and how he has a really big heart.

I had a feeling Luke [wasn’t] going to throw me under the bus and he was going to try to do something beautiful with this.

There's definitely family stuff that comes up [in the film] that’s hard for me to watch back on. But you do learn to give yourself grace … Every time I was like, “Oh, I didn't like that part, Luke!” he'd always explain why it's important in the film. And I think it's a good example of, if I were to edit this and direct it, it would not be as interesting because I would only want you to see all the good stuff. I would want you to see the angles where I don't look exhausted. But Luke is more of like, “This is why, as a story and as an audience member, it's just more interesting.” You know, we want to see the nitty gritty stuff.

During a time when there's such visceral hate toward the art of drag, this film celebrates queer expression and is beautifully unapologetic about it. What does it mean to you to release this film right now?

I think a lot of people who are afraid of queer people or talk about this “agenda” that we have, or people that are just sort of against queer people having human rights, are just really afraid of the unknown. They don't know someone queer, they don't know someone who's a drag queen, they don't know a trans person. So they're afraid of what they don't know. They assume the worst. I think as humans we do that — we are afraid of the unknown and we speculate, we come up with a story in our mind of what the other side is wanting to do.

This [film] is just an example of someone living their life — going through their journey of self-acceptance and self-exploration in a way that doesn't affect or hurt anyone else. It's literally just a child growing up into someone that they've always dreamed of being, but sort of having to shed all the self-shame, shed all of the insecurities, shed a lot of hard stuff that is put on you as you navigate this world as a teenager and as a young adult. Then, at the other side of it, going, “You know what? I don't deserve that, I don't want that — all I deserve right now is to be myself, whether that means getting into drag, or whatever that means.

[This film] is really an example of a queer person's life, which I think is something that people need to see. They need to see that we are beautiful, complicated, layered individuals who have opinions and we want to be loved. And that's really it. We just want to navigate our lives freely, we just want to do our thing, and make other people feel good along the way. There's no other objective here. There's, nothing evil about it. There's nothing sinister.

I just think that this film to me is like a love letter to my younger self, too. I think it's giving my younger self permission to have fun and enjoy it. You know, a lot of my therapy has been looking back on time — whether you're like nine or 16, or 21, or whatever it is — and trying to hold that kid's hand and letting them see what you've built and created. And letting them actually go “Wow, that's so cool!” That's sort of what this film has meant to me personally. And I would love for younger queer people to see this and let themselves enjoy the good stuff that happens to them, as it happens. Don't wait until you're in your 30s to look back.

Do you have any advice for current or up-and-coming performers?

I think you're going to meet so many people in your life, you're going to be inspired by so much. I think you're going to want to try to please a lot of people. And I look around and some of the best friends that I have today are the same best friends that I had when I was like 12.

You have a feeling in your heart of who's good for you, and who's maybe not. I think you know, instinctually, what is good for you and what jobs make you deeply, really excited and happy, even if it might not impress other people as much. I think you know your instincts on what's going to make you just grow to be a bigger, better rockstar version of yourself and what is going to stifle you and mute you.

So I would say to any young people, to not ignore that instinct, not ignore, “I feel like this is my bestie and she loves me and she wants nothing but the best for me,” like hold on to those people. We all have them. Then we all have these people that we kind of want to impress, but they don't really care about us. And you know the difference.

And I think that I would just say to any young queer performer, artist or person — listen to your instincts, trust them. It's not your job to take care of everyone. It's your job to take care of yourself first and foremost. And then allow people to enjoy your journey with you, but ultimately make sure that you're taken care of first.

You can see “Lady Like” on Thursday, April 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Downer Theatre followed by a Q&A with Lady Camden and Luke Willis, the film’s director. There will also be a second showing on Friday, April 19 at 6 p.m. at the Avalon Theater followed by a Q&A with Willis. 

You can also see Lady Camden perform at the “This Is It!” bar on Thursday, April 18 at 9:30 p.m.

Xcaret is a WUWM producer for Lake Effect.
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