Netflix’s latest original film is the queer holiday favorite we needed. Dumplin’ is a coming-of-age film about body positivity and Dolly Parton. Do we really need to say more?
Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald) is a plus-size teenage girl who finds solace in the lyrics of Parton’s music. After she’s put down one too many times for her size, she decides to enter the local pageant as a form of protest. This brings her toe-to-toe with her own mother, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), the pageant director and a local celeb from her own days of pageantry.
RuPaul’s Drag Race fans will notice Ginger Minj in the film, as somewhat of a fairy godmother. She plays a Dolly Parton impersonator who helps elevate Willowdean’s pageantry as only a drag mother knows how.
We recently caught up with Minj on the set of a new music video for the film. Along with Alaska Thunderfuck, Manila Luzon, BeBe Zahara Benet, BenDeLaCreme, and Katya, she pays tribute to Parton in a remix of “Jolene” (now available on iTunes).
At a farm just outside of Santa Clarita, California, we sat down with Minj as she put on nails in her trailer. We discussed the body positivity of Dumplin’ and her lifelong love for Dolly Parton.
OUT: Have you had a chance to meet Dolly Parton?
Ginger Minj: I met her when I was younger because my family used to go to Dollywood twice a year – back when we were a happy family, before my father abandoned us. That's my story. It's coming out on Netflix later. [laughs] We used to go all the time, and I remember we went for an album she had just debuted that she was doing a whole concert version of it at Dollywood. I was young and cute at the time. So, of course I got to meet her for a second, and I just remember that she smelled like the color pink. I don't know how to describe it other than like if pink had a smell, it would be her. So, I was so excited to meet her again. Then, when we were on set for Dumplin’, she came in, and I was like, “That's it. That's that smell.”
What’s it like getting to pay tribute to “Jolene”?
It’s one of those songs that everybody knows, even if you don't know the words to the song, you know the song. Everybody's gone around singing, “Jolene, Jolene” at some point. So, for us to get the opportunity to bring it to a different audience and put a different spin on it, I think it's important. It's something you never could have told 10-year-old me I would get to do.
What was it like working on Dumplin’?
The movie was very interesting because we had a few professional Dolly Parton impersonators, except for Harold (Perrineau) and myself who played the main two queens in the movie. So, it was a little intimidating at first, because when Jason Cozmo comes around the corner looking exactly like Dolly Parton, you're like, “How's this little glamour toad from Orlando, Florida supposed to look like that?” Their makeup and hair team were really wonderful, and they tried to make us feel as comfortable as possible. But the director told us the first day when we were freaking out a little bit, “You're not supposed to be Dolly Parton, you're supposed to be the essence of Dolly Parton.” That makes a whole lot more sense. Kind of like how Angela Bassett wasn't Tina Turner, [laughs] but she gave you the essence of it, you know?
It was a week before I started filming. I had to go in for some fittings. I was there in this teeny-tiny little trailer, and I was still smoking at the time. I sat outside, smoking a cigarette, just waiting for something to happen, and Kathy Najimy comes out of the trailer and she goes, “Minj!” I was like, “You know who I am? You seriously know who I am?” So, we got to talking, and then she went to the trailer across, “Jennifer, get out here and come meet Ging’.” So, Jennifer Aniston comes out, drinking a coffee, “Thank you so much for working on our film. We're very happy to have you here.” Kathy Najimy became my scene partner, my best friend on set. She said, “Is this your trailer? This won't do.” She went and got me moved directly next to her into this gigantic trailer, like four times the size, and she would come over every day for coffee and Beyoncé. That was our routine for the two weeks that we were on set together.
How does it feel to be involved in a movie like this with such a body positive message?
I wish it's something that we would have had when I was younger. I mean, we had Hairspray, but as much as I love it and I love John Waters, it's through that absurd filter that society thinks this is ugly, but we think it's beautiful, so we celebrate it. I like that this just says, “Nobody should think this is ugly. This is something that should be normal. This is something that should be positive for everybody.”
Before I got on Drag Race, I got into drag through acting, but the majority of the first half of my drag career was pageantry. And this story completely hits home to me because every time I'd go into a pageant, I would be told, “You're too fat, you're too short, you're not pretty enough.” I always had that weighing down on me, and it made me so self-conscious going into pageants until one day I just finally decided to say, “Fuck it.” I went up there, and I did what I wanted to do, wore what I wanted to wear. That's when I started winning, and that's when I started to get the momentum in my career. So, I think that this story on some level really tells that and delivers that message. And that's the message I wish I could have learned a long time ago.