When Fox 21 Television Studios announced that Laverne Cox would play the role of Frank N. Furter in their 2016 The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, most public response circled around how Cox’s visible political identity as a trans woman spoke to the problematic nature of Rocky Horror’s language and dated identity politics. Released in 1975, Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been a touchstone of queer popular culture for more than forty years. Rocky Horror is constructed as a self- conscious pastiche of multiple cultural moments and queer coded pieces of popular culture; Gothic literature, classic Hollywood film, science fiction B movies, Glam Rock, and drag all mingle in the queer cultural collage that makes up the show’s dramaturgy. As such, the scope of Rocky Horror serves as a kind of performative queer archive, collecting and performing generations of queer culture. However, in addition to offering a dense collection of queer cultural artifacts, Rocky Horror has also inherited many of the complicated representational aspects of its sources, such as the racist coding and simultaneous racial erasure of Gothic and horror conventions as well as rapidly changing and often conflicted trans identity politics of the mid- twentieth century. These problematic appropriations and omissions become all the more salient in light of Cox’s 2016 performance. In this article, Crookston examines how Rocky Horror has functioned as a performative queer cultural archive and how Danny Ortega’s remake, starring Cox, challenges, complicates, and excavates O’Brien’s original historiographic dramaturgy.
Can I Be Frank with You?: Laverne Cox and the Historiographic Dramaturgy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Cameron Crookston is a sessional instructor at the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on drag, LGBTQ2+ history, and queer cultural memory. His work appears in Queer Studies in Media and Popular Culture and New Essays on Canadian Theatre. He is also the editor of the anthology The Cultural Impact of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Why Are We All Gagging?
Cameron Crookston; Can I Be Frank with You?: Laverne Cox and the Historiographic Dramaturgy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. GLQ 1 April 2021; 27 (2): 233–252. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8871677
Download citation file: