American Masters Launches New Short Film Series Masters of Drag for Pride Month  

Air date: 06/11/2021

American Masters Launches New Short Film Series Masters of Drag for Pride Month  

The eight-episode series is hosted by actress, singer, reality star and activist Peppermint 

New episodes go live every other Friday on YouTube and Facebook beginning June 11  


Hosted by Peppermint, New York City’s delightful drag diva, Masters of Drag tells the stories of American drag pioneers. In the process, it shows that drag is a performance artform with a long and colorful history in the United States, involving bravery, perseverance in the face of adversity and self-expression. The episodes also show how drag performance and perception have changed over time. 

New episodes go live every other Friday from June 11 to September 17 on and 


1)  Julian Eltinge – May 14, 1881 to March 7, 1941 (Releases June 11)

A stage and film star who experienced enormous success in the early 20th century, Eltinge was at one time was one of the highest-paid performers in the country. But he died broken and was largely forgotten.

2) Gladys Bentley – August 12, 1907 to January 18, 1960 (Releases June 25)

A gender-bending, famed blues musician and drag king who was part of the Harlem Renaissance. She performed with drag queens and openly loved women, until later in life when she felt extreme pressure to conform to society’s standards.

3) José Sarria – December 13, 1922 to August 19, 2013 (Releases July 30)

A legend of the San Francisco drag scene. Out and Latino, Sarria dedicated his life to fight for queer rights and even ran as the country’s first known openly gay candidate for public office. An international drag charity that he helped found continues his legacy with legendary drag galas.

4) William Dorsey Swann – born 1858 (Releases September 3)

Born into slavery, Swann was the first known person to identify as a “Queen of Drag” and the first known American activist to lead a queer resistance group.

5) Joan Jett Blakk / Terence Smith – Active early to mid 90’s (Releases August 6)

On her 35th birthday, Joan Jett Blakk, the drag persona of actor Terence Smith, ran for president in lipstick, heels and eyeshadow, continuing a long tradition of drag as political activism. Blakk had also run for mayors of Chicago and San Francisco. During these “campaigns,” Blakk advocated for policies that many politicians are still talking about today, including universal healthcare, eliminating student debt and civil rights.

6) Flawless Sabrina – September 10, 1939 to November 18, 2017 (Releases August 20)

She was an artist, activist, gay mother and mentor to hundreds of queer and gender-nonconforming youth over the years and starred in the fabulous 1968 drag documentary The Queen about a drag competition that she organized. She was full of life advice for her many mentees, including her reminder that “normal is just a setting on a dryer.”

7) Jean Malin – June 30, 1908 – August 10, 1933 (Releases September 17)

Jean Malin was one of the first openly gay performers in the Prohibition era, and for a while the highest paid Broadway performer during the “pansy craze” of the early 1930s. Malin stood six feet tall, weighed 200 pounds and had a wavy crop of blonde hair. Although he was effeminate and a female impersonator, he was known to put hecklers and homophobes in their place with his wit — and his fists.

8) Crystal LaBeija – Died 1982 (Releases October 1)

A proud Black trans woman, a drag mother and a pageant girl, Crystal LaBeija was the cause of an iconic meltdown in drag history that paved the way for house culture, voguing, Paris is Burning and the TV series Pose.


Masters of Drag is a production of The WNET Group. Aisha Amin and David Polk are producers. Michael Kantor is American Masters executive producer.

Original production support provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

For editorial use in North America only in conjunction with the direct publicity or promotion of American Masters—Masters of Drag. No other rights are granted. All rights reserved. Downloading this image constitutes agreement to these terms.

Photograph of Gladys Bentley Courtesy of Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Photograph of Julian Eltinge in the Broadway production of the musical The Fascinating Widow (1911) Courtesy of White Studio

The famous drag queen and personality Joan Jett Blakk announces her run for the presidency in Chicago 1992 with the slogan "Lick Bush in '92". Courtesy of Genyphyr Novak

Photograph of Gladys Bentley Courtesy of Carl Van Vechten

Photograph of Sarria in drag Courtesy of The Jose Sarria Foundation

Two black actors, Gregory and Brown, one in drag, dancing the Cake-Walk in Paris. Photographic postcard, 1903 Courtesy of Welcome Collection