“Glitterboys and Ganglands”
The Miss Western Cape Contest
In “Glitterboys and Ganglands,” a documentary directed by Lauren Beukes, three contestants in the Miss Gay Western Cape contest are featured in interviews leading up to the contest as well as in their performances competing against each other. Miss Gay Western Cape is the largest drag performance contest in South Africa and while lighthearted, the film addresses issues such as poverty, sexual violence and HIV.
This is a slightly unusual beauty pageant. It follows following the lives of a ballroom dancing mechanic, a pre-op transsexual trapeze artist and a pageant power couple. The contestants are queer and black, or mixed race and female impersonators. It is intenerating that this pageant take place in a community where historical social issues of poverty, gangsterism and conservative attitudes towards sexuality are part of the context of the lives of the contestants.
This documentary was shot in 2010 but because the setting is the rather deprived Cape Flats area of Cape Town in South Africa, it has a very distinctly old fashioned feel to it. The area is populated by ‘Coloureds‘ a multi-racial ethnic group, and time has definitely stood still for the local populace, especially the LGBT community that must constantly deal with blatant homophobia.
This is the story of the area’s most important annual pageant where the competing drag queens hope that by winning, they will take the first step to a more glamorous life. Filmmaker Lauren Beukes chooses to follow three of the contestants starting with all their preparations in the run up to the event. Kat Gilardi (“The Princess”) is managed by her boyfriend Errol who was a runner-up in Mr. Gay South Africa and who designs and make all her costumes. Kayden van Eerden has 59 beauty pageant wins under her belt and thinks that this pageant is hers for the taking. The fact that she is a pre-op trans woman causes some consternation and objections to the fact that this disqualifies her but it brings a crude rebuttal from the Organizer who says that anyone still packing a penis can enter.
The third contestant is Eva Torez a young car mechanic who is preparing to enter the pageant for the first time, and it is he who almost unemotionally bears witness to how rough the area is with both of his brothers being killed within a few months of each other. Despite this, he is optimistic with a bright outlook on life.
When the week of the Pageant arrives and all the contestants start rehearsing and the camaraderie between them all is touching and quite genuine. They are very creative at designing and making their own homegrown costumes out of presumably very small budgets, and it is only Kayden who works at McDonalds during the day who spends big bucks for her couture gown (without a hint of where the money came from to pay for it).
The organizers do a good job of making the event look as glamorous as possible and everything on the big day goes extremely smoothly. That is until Kayden doesn’t even make the cut for the Top Five and she cannot wait to get out the Theater claiming the whole thing is rigged.
‘Princess’ claims the crown and when the local tabloids catch her embracing Errol they dub the pair the ‘Posh & Becks of the Cape Flats’, which gives them great joy. This is an intriguing documentary filled with enthusiasm. It is more than just a moment in the spotlight; it is a rare opportunity for the contestants to be true to who they really are.