There is a poignant sense of community that flows throughout Adrian Russell Wills’ documentary Black Divaz. Over the course of five days the indigenous drag queen contestants for Australia’s inaugural Miss First Nation pageant get to be themselves and, in some cases, realize that they are not alone. Though they may come from different parts of the country, they become both competitors and sisters once they hit the stage.
Wills takes us through the various aspects of the competition observing everything from the queens learning choreography to them working on their costumes. Interspersed are music video style vignettes highlighting the contestants both inside and outside the competition.
As empowering as these video style moments are, take for example when an Aboriginal queen named Nova Gina confidently walks through an outdoor market as mostly white patrons look on, Wills spends a little too much time on the stylish aspects of the film. Time that could have been used to better get to know the individuals behind the glamourous makeup.
The strongest sections in Black Divaz come when Wills allows the contestants, and pageant organizers, to share their experiences. It is here where we get brief glimpses into the contestants’ personal lives, the impact of colonization and the sense of isolation that some feel in their daily life. As we see with several of the people involved drag was not merely a hobby, but a life saver. These are individuals who are the minority within the minority and are often ostracized. Black Divaz is an effective reminder that although there are several avenues, such as Miss First Nation, for Australia’s LGBTIQ to foster a healthy and empowering sense of community, there is still plenty of work to be done.