Sasha Colby’s interest in movies started at a young age. Long before she won Season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Colby was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness — which didn’t allow for much media consumption. But old movies were a way for “your favorite drag queen’s favorite drag queen” to explore culture at a young age.
“I was a really interesting child,” Colby laughs. “I really loved old movies because they were easier to get away with.”
Queer representation on screen was lacking until very recently, but Colby still found stories to inspire her. We talked with Colby about “movies that have helped me find my queerness and my way through life.” And we had to include a few TV shows and music videos, too.
Funny Face (1957)
Synopsis: An impromptu fashion shoot at a book store brings about a new fashion model discovery in the shop clerk.
Sasha Colby: “One of my favorite movies is Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Fred Astaire plays a photographer from Vogue and there’s all these like old-school 60s models in the movie like Dovima and Jean Shrimpton. Audrey Hepburn plays this ugly duckling that turns into this beautiful model. Hubert de Givenchy designed everything for the movie. So I think that’s where my love of fashion and what it means to me was born. I’m such a history nerd too so I love anything history and fashion.”
Synopsis: After producing a few flops on Broadway, songwriter Bert Hanley goes to work at a musical camp for young performers. He finds an opportunity to regain success by staging a brand new production with his inspiring campers.
Sasha Colby: “I remember at an early age watching a very queer movie called Camp. It’s set at a summer camp where a bunch of queer kids are doing a musical. It had all different types of sexual expressions and gender expressions. That was a big one.”
Synopsis: Monica is an intimate portrait of a woman who returns home to care for her dying mother. The story follows Monica’s fractured family as they deal with abandonment, aging, acceptance, and redemption.
Sasha Colby: “One recent movie that really resonates with me is Monica starring Trace Lysette, and it is telling a trans story. Imagine: you’re a trans woman going back home because your mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s. How do you as a trans person deal with that and internalize it? It’s such a strong story and I thought Trace Lysette was amazing in it. That really spoke to me.
The L Word (2004 – 2009)
Synopsis: Showtime’sThe L Word follows the lives and loves of a small, close-knit group of lesbian women living in Los Angeles and the drama from their friends and family members that either support or loathe them.
Sasha Colby: “I remember watching The L Word as a young trans woman brought me to life. It was kind of fascinating to me and I really resonated with a lot of the characters, a lot of the the storylines.”
“Cherish” by Madonna (1989)
Sasha Colby: “My family lives across from the beach in Hawaii, so as a kid we would go down to the beach all the time and I had a blonde bowl cut. I was maybe five or six, and I was already feeling trans, so I never really took off a top. I had like a tank top on with my little surf shorts.
“What happened that day is I looked exactly like Madonna did in Cherish, and I was rolling around that sand reenacting the Cherish video, and that’s like one of the memories that my family would crack up about because I was the Little Mermaid out there.
Will & Grace (1998 – 2006; 2017 – 2020)
Synopsis: Will & Grace follows the antics of best friends, Will, a gay lawyer, and Grace, and straight interior designer, who share a New York City apartment. They’re joined by the sassy and proud friend Jack, and the filthy rich and amoral socialite Karen.
Sasha Colby on the show’s positive aspects: “I feel back when I was growing in the early 2000s, Will & Grace helped us understand a gay lifestyle. To see a successful queer person was really important at that moment. To see that being queer doesn’t mean you don’t contribute to society. I’m glad that I got to grow up in the era where you could see media where queer people hold really important positions in jobs and the corporate world.
“When it comes to bad representation… I want to say Will & Grace again. It did not age well. It was very problematic. Trans people were always the butt of the jokes. You could tell that there was no trans or non-binary representation in the writing room. It was entirely from a cis gay men’s point of view.
“They tried to clean it up in the reboot but to, the reboot seem like it’s trying too hard to be inclusive, just like And Just Like That… It’s a level of like, “Oh, I’m a cool mom. I know what’s going on.” That’s what Will & Grace was giving the second time around. I don’t think there needs to be remakes of it because it was toxic then for a reason, and we should leave that there so we know as a marker what not to go back on.”
The Birdcage (1996)
Synopsis: Gay cabaret owner Armand and his drag queen companion Albert agree to put Albert in drag to present a false, straight front so that their son can introduce them to his fiancée’s right-wing parents.
Sasha Colby: “I think if I didn’t realize I was trans, I would probably live my life as Nathan Lane and in linen clothes. [Laughs.] I think the way that Robin Williams played a gay character not as frilly or sissy was great. He played it like the gay men I knew growing up. He was a genius. And Hank Azaria as the as the houseboy Agador Spartacus!”
Party Monster (2003)
Synopsis: Party Monster is based on the true story of Michael Alig, the infamous Club Kid and NYC nightlife organizer whose life was sent spiraling down when he bragged on television about killing his drug dealer and roommate. Alig spent 17 years in jail and died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2020.
Sasha Colby: “I came of age in the early 2000s, so I was kind of obsessed with Party Monster. The tone was dark, but it was so queer positive. It was about being in the clubs and loving life. Expressing who you are with this club kid energy.”
“Everlasting Love” music video, Gloria Estefan (1994)
Sasha Colby: “Gloria Stefan’s “Everlasting Love” video was filled with drag queens. It was all these drag queens lip-syncing to her and it looked like The Birdcage come alive. I would like sneak and watch that all the time. I was watching what I wanted to be, not even knowing it at the time.
Drag Race (2009 – )
Synopsis: For over 15 seasons, RuPaul has crowned America’s next drag superstar.
Sasha Colby: “Drag Race’s first season happened during the Wild Wild West days of reality shows. We were watching in real time producers trying to understand how to present and do a show like this. But how do you just happen to have a Shangela and Morgan McMichaels or a Delta Work and Raha? Those early seasons had the hugest stars that are still stars today. I think that’s so amazing to see.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race is now streaming on Paramount+.
Main image: Sasha Colby emcees the Pride party at the Vice President’s Residence earlier this year.