Darcelle XV at Pride 2018

You’re sitting in a car. Beside you, awesomely enough, is Portland legend Darcelle XV. People are cheering on either side of the street, applauding, laughing, screaming praise. “Darcelle, Darcelle, Darcelle!” Everyone loves you.

Then you turn the bend and there’s a sign with large red letters: “God hates you!” You notice another one: “REPENT, turn to Jesus or BURN.” Many faces appear contorted with rage. Someone is chanting into a microphone, “Drag Queen devil, Drag Queen devil!” 

Everyone hates you. 

This is what a new virtual-reality documentary—Through Darcelle’s Eyes, produced by Portland’s 360 Labs—is like. One moment you’re sitting on the couch with Darcelle’s alter-ego, Walter Cole, and he’s telling you things like, “Being happy keeps you young!” In the next, you’re forced to reckon viscerally with the bigotry and discrimination Darcelle has combated her whole life.

In order to feel the love, you’ve got to feel the hate too,” says Brad Gill, who co-directed the film with Rachel Bracker. “It’s important for people to realize that it’s not easy to be who you are when there are people out there who just want to hurt you.” 

The 87-year-old Darcelle, who is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest drag queen, has spent the past 50 years advocating for the LGBTQ community in Portland. Though she’s no stranger to the silver screen (Oregon Public Broadcasting won a regional Emmy in 2016 for the documentary Darcelle XV), there is little LGBTQ content available in VR, which is partly why Darcelle jumped at the opportunity to work with 360 Labs, the co-directors say.

“Let’s say, you put on a VR headset and search ‘LGBTQ’ or ‘drag queens.’ You wouldn’t find anything about those stories in 360-degree VR,” says Bracker. “We definitely feel a sense of responsibility. We need more diversity when it comes to [stories] in VR.” 

Because the film is shot in this manner, it’s also completely immersive, making you feel like you’re really there with Darcelle. That’s why scenes like the protest are so jolting: you experience (to an extent) what it’s like to be hated by people who don’t know the first thing about you. 

But this is also what makes the scenes with Darcelle that much more intimate; her warmth and sage wisdom (and many a joke about Viagra) translate with a palpability not typically accessible via a TV set. 

“It’s not easy, and Darcelle has not had an easy road at all,” says Bracker. “The happiness and success she has right now, she’s really given that to Portland. This city would not be what it is without her.”

Through Darcelle’s Eyes

7–9 p.m. Fri, Oct 19, NW Documentary, $15

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