“Moonlight” Writer Honoring First Drag Queen to Run for President

Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney will star in his new play about Joan Jett Blakk.

Tarell Alvin McCraney, co-writer and executive producer of the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight, is now shining a light on a real drag legend.

Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company will present the world premiere of McCraney’s Ms. Blakk for President, co-written by SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical director Tina Landau, Playbill reports.

Ms. Blakk for President is inspired by the true story of Joan Jett Blakk, America’s first drag queen presidential candidate.

McCraney will also star as Blakk in his new play, which Landau will direct. It replaces Steppenwolf’s previously announced production of McCraney’s Wig Out!

“Tina and I want to focus on something that is current and bold and allows me to use some tools that I haven’t exercised in a while; my acting,” McCraney says in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited to bring Ms. Blakk for President to Chicago.”

Steppenwolf describes the production as “part campaign rally, part nightclub performance, part confessional, and all PARTY!”

Blakk is the drag persona of Detroit-born Chicago performer and activist Terence Smith. Following her run for mayor of Chicago, Blakk received national attention in 1992 when she ran for President of the United States using the slogan “Lick Bush in ’92!”

After co-founding the Chicago chapter of Queer Nation, a political action group focused on bringing visibility to queer issues at the height of the AIDS crisis, Blakk ran on the Queer Nation party ticket. Her running mate was Miriam Ben-Shalom, a lesbian military activist.

Blakk announced her presidential run on the floor of the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Referring to Ronald Reagan, she famously quipped, “If a bad actor can be elected president, why not a good drag queen?”

“You might think we’re joking,” Blakk said at a press conference. “Well, I’m sorry, but I think the fact that the U.S. is the only industrialized country without national healthcare is a joke.”

The drag candidate’s primary campaign goal was to direct media attention to Chicago’s LGBTQ community and combat homophobia.

Blakk ran for president again in 1996 with the slogan “Lick Slick Willie in ’96!” She later ran for mayor of San Francisco.

McCraney will make his Broadway debut later this year with Choir Boy, a coming-of-age drama about a young choir leader whose effeminate behavior invites homophobic taunts from his classmates and contempt from his headmaster at an elite boarding school for black men.

In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, McCraney’s unpublished semi-autobiographical play about a poor black man growing up gay in Florida, became the basis for Moonlight, written and directed by Barry Jenkins.

McCraney and Jenkins won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. In his acceptance speech, McCraney dedicated the award “to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-genderconforming who don’t see themselves.” Moonlight also became the first LGBTQ-themed film and the first film with an all-black cast to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

McCraney is currently the chair of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama. His other plays include Head of Passes and The Brother/Sister Plays.

Ms. Blakk for President begins May 23 and opens June 3, 2019, at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

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