By Ken Williams | Contributing Editor
Drag queens inspire young filmmaker’s first movie
Born and raised in the Middle East, Assaad Yacoub didn’t have any exposure to the bedazzled world of drag queens. It wasn’t until he moved to the United States seven years ago that the young filmmaker learned about the courageous men who strap it up, tuck it under, and don glamorous gowns and tall wigs to create the outlandish female characters that entertain us in clubs, on television and at the movies.
It was love at first sight.
Yacoub decided his first film had to be about drag queens. His short film “Cherry Pop” won accolades at film festivals in 2014 and 2015, so Yacoub decided to do a full-length version, which debuted in 2016.
The “Cherry Pop” movie will be presented by FilmOut San Diego on Wednesday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinema. Tickets are $10 at filmoutsandiego.com or at the door.
Yacoub said he plans to attend the screening and participate in a Q&A session with the audience.
“Cherry Pop” takes place on one eventful night at a local drag bar.
A handsome newcomer (played by Lars Berge) is shunned by a bunch of backstabbing drag queens, played by Caldwell Tidicue (aka Bob the Drag Queen), Tempest Dujour, Mayhem Miller, Detox Icunt, Misty Violet, Allusia Alusia and Miguel Sagaz.
Adding to the story line dramatics is “drag legend” Zaza (Patrick Holt), who is in mourning, not only because of the death of her beloved, but also her final show as a performer.
Inspired by the art of drag, “Cherry Pop” has been a labor of love. Here are five questions with Assaad Yacoub:
- How did a young man who hails from the Middle East end up making a movie about drag queens, and when and where did you see your first drag show?
I was born in Dubai [United Arab Emirates] but I’m Lebanese. I moved to New York City when I was 20. I had never been to America before that, and that’s where I saw my first drag show at The Stonewall Inn. I was so intrigued and impressed with what I saw that I knew I had to give this community a voice. That’s how “Cherry Pop” all started.
- How did a young director get so lucky to get such talented drag queens for the movie, and were they divas on the set? Where did you find Lars Berge and why did he get cast as the “cherry’’?
I wouldn’t call it lucky; it was more like persistent. [laughs] I met Bob the Drag Queen in New York City six years ago and cast him in the short version of “Cherry Pop,” so Bob was already attached to the project.
Allusia Alusia introduced me to Detox and I basically harassed her to be in my movie. Magnus Hastings (Photographer) linked me to Latrice and she brought Tempest on board. I found Allusia, Misty and Mayhem at The Abbey [West Hollywood, California] drag show. Miguel, who plays Choriza, came to the table read to fill in for the part and killed it, so that’s how he got the role.
No one was a diva on set! It was one of the most fun sets I’ve ever been on. The girls are all pretty close to each other.
Lars got involved with the project from my friend, Dina Shihabi, who plays his fiancé in the movie. They both studied acting in New York City. After meeting him, I asked if he would be interested in reading for the Cherry character, and after the first read-through I knew I had found my Cherry.
- How have audiences responded to “Cherry Pop” and do they react differently in different parts of the country and the world?
The responses I’ve been getting at the screenings have been amazing. People are really receiving the movie well. The biggest difference I noticed is that in every city, different jokes work better, but overall it’s been a positive reaction.
- What are the challenges to making LGBT movies, the gamut from financing to casting?
The biggest challenge I faced when making “Cherry Pop” was getting people to believe [the project] was actually happening. I live in Hollywood and the queens are constantly approached by people wanting to work with them on so many different things; but most of the time, the projects fall through.
I don’t blame people for having reservations that this 25-year-old was actually going to make the “Cherry Pop” movie happen. Once the ball started rolling and we were on set, that’s when it all sank in that this movie was actually happening.
- What are you working on next?
I am currently working on a TV adaptation of the movie and excited to start pitching it around. Also working on a few music videos with some of the RuPaul girls.
—Ken Williams is a contributing editor of Gay San Diego and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. He is a volunteer board member of FilmOut San Diego, serving as film and media relations director.