A colorful crowd of glitter-studded gowns, spiked heels and skyscraper hair entered the Castro Theatre on Sunday morning. Overhead, “50 Years of Fabulous” adorned the marquee, advertising a documentary on the history of San Francisco’s Castro district, which was screened as part of the Frameline42 San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival.
“50 Years of Fabulous,” a wildly entertaining but still educational film, follows some of the most important characters of and turning-point events in the LGBTQ+ history of San Francisco. Filled with gorgeous aerial shots of the Castro district, the documentary’s heart beats loudest in its interviews with the celebrated members of the Imperial Court, San Francisco’s resident association for the unification of the LGBTQ+ community.
At Sunday’s screening, the start of the day may have been overcast and dreary, but the atmosphere exuded bright character as moviegoers greeted each other with wide smiles, waves and blown kisses. Director and writer Jethro Patalinghug brimmed with pride onstage as he heard his mother scream, “That’s my son!” from the packed audience.
“It’s very important to look into our past and see where we are now,” Patalinghug said during the Q&A after the film, which covered 50 years of LGBTQ+ culture, leading up to 2015.
The documentary highlighted those whom Patalinghug called the “heroes of our community,” the Emperors and Empresses of the Castro district’s Imperial Court. José Sarria, a pillar of the gay liberation movement of the 1960s, is followed closely throughout the film, from his role in the birth of the Imperial Court to his death in 2013.
The film begins with a glamorous tone, highlighting the drag shows and leather clubs for which the Castro is world-renowned. Once the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and the Society for Individual Rights protests in support of gay and lesbian communities are introduced, the film transitions into a more serious tone that still maintains the feeling of hope that radiates throughout.
Contemporary perspectives are emotionally captured through introspective talks on the future of San Francisco’s community of LGBTQ+ organizations such as the Imperial Council. Many of the active drag queens interviewed comment on how normalized being “queer” is in modern times — membership in LGBTQ+ organizations and unifying communities is thus dwindling, a fact that the film presents as bittersweet.
Between the history of local bars and clubs, features from San Francisco politicians and recognizable faces in the drag community, and constant shots of the famous Castro rainbow flag as a visual symbol of hope, this documentary captures exactly what makes the Castro district so important in the history of Bay Area culture and LGBTQ+ culture alike.