“Queen of the Capital,” a new documentary from director Josh Davidsburg, reveals a colorful queer community in the heart of the nation’s capital.
The documentary follows drag queen Muffy Blake Stephyns on her quest to be crowned Empress of the Imperial Court of Washington, D.C.
By day, Muffy is Daniel Hays, a legislative analyst in the U.S. Department of Labor. But at night, she dons one of her enormous signature wigs—”The higher the hair, the closer to God!” she says—to raise money for charity. The documentary follows Muffy for a year as she campaigns to become Empress.
Muffy is part of the magical world of the Imperial Court, a nonprofit focused on fundraising where drag queens, kings, performers of all types and other members of the LGBTQ community gather. At first glance, the court appears to be focused on glitter, jewels and tiaras—but the organization cleverly mixes fantastical gowns and royal titles with practical activism.
Empress is an elected role that comes with a coronation and a crown—but also with the responsibility of being a lead fundraiser and spokesperson of the organization for a year. The real purpose of the Imperial Court is to raise money through drag shows, marches and other events, with the Emperor and Empress leading the effort.
Over the past few years, the Imperial Court has raised thousands of dollars for various charities around D.C. They support many different groups, especially those focusing on LGBTQ youth, HIV/AIDS prevention and research, and social services—although each Emperor and Empress bring their own passions to the list of charities.
While the documentary provides stunning visuals of drag queens and kings dressed in formal “state attire,” the film’s real charm lies in its focus on LGBTQ chosen families and close-knit communities. Muffy talks at length about how her drag family, led by her drag mother Shelby Jewel Stephyns, have been a source of strength for her and has even saved her life on multiple occasions.
One scene takes place at a family dinner with Muffy, Shelby and their other family members—none related by blood, but closer than friends. The calm, welcoming family dinner is radical in its insistence that LGBTQ people can live happy, fulfilling lives outside of traditional nuclear families. As Shelby tells Muffy, “We’re not required to love you; we choose to love you.”
In a time when many LGBTQ films choose to focus on tragedy, homophobia and death, “Queen of the Capital” stands out by centering the cheerful day-to-day life of LGBTQ people interacting with their chosen family and friends.
And the positivity is not artificial—it’s clear that the community has known severe hardship. The film touches on HIV/AIDS, disabilities, abusive relationships, homophobic religions, loss and more. But it always returns to the strong personal bonds interwoven throughout the Imperial Court.
The Imperial Court’s dedication to helping their community is shown over and over again throughout the film. For Muffy, drag isn’t a way to pay the bills: It’s how she can give back to the community that has become a family and a home for her.
And that commitment is honored in the mission of the Imperial Court, and the words spoken at every Court event and coronation: “From the heart, through the Court, for the community.”
Distributed by Mutiny Pictures, the award-winning film has played to sold-out crowds at festivals around the world including Slamdance 2020.
“Queen of the Capital” is available to stream now from the Alamo Drafthouse.