The Statue of Liberty has welcomed immigrants and visitors to the United States for more than 130 years and now, a new documentary speculates that the famed landmark might be a drag queen.
In a 2016 interview with the New York Post, author and journalist Elizabeth Mitchell alleged that Lady Liberty was actually a depiction of French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s brother Charles, once a law-student who ended up in an insane asylum.
“There’s a rumour it’s Bartholdi’s brother,” she said. “Going through photos [Bartholdi] had in his files of his brother, I started to look at the face more carefully, and it really did look to be like Liberty.”
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the multi Emmy-winning duo behind RuPaul’s Drag Race, are revisiting the rumor in their documentary, Liberty: Mother of Exiles,which explores the statue’s origins and the construction of The Statue of Liberty Museum which recently opened at its base.
"I think it was absolutely a fitting subject for us," Barbato told Salon. "Overexposed and under-revealed. A subject people think they know.”
At Monday night’s premiere, the duo told The Hollywood Reporter that they began working on the documentary before Donald Trump became president.
"Little did we know that everything that would happen in the next three years only makes what Lady Liberty stands for even more important than ever," Bailey said. "I think it made the film ultra-relevant."
Diane von Furstenberg, also referred to as the statue’s “godmother,” makes an appearance in the documentary having raised $100 million to fund the museum. Furstenberg told The Hollywood Reporter she became involved with the museum after being asked to join the board of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation by its president and CEO, Stephen Briganti.
In her book, Liberty's Torch, Mitchell argues that the statue was modeled after Bartholdi’s brother since he served as his caretaker during his later mental illness and would have had plenty of time to study his features as he sat with him in silence.
“His brother in his adult years had actually gone mad, and it was Bartholdi’s task to go once a week to visit, sometimes [spending] hours just staring at his brother, who was not speaking,” she said. This sort of facial study is important for sculpting.
Some see the idea of Liberty being a man in drag as a stretch, and believe a common theory is that it is instead Bartholdi’s mother — experts have no actual evidence to prove that. Seems like the sort of “pick your own fantasy,” we’ve always wanted.
Liberty: Mother of Exiles premiered on Thursday, Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.