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A Cristal Clear First Impression

by Ben Nelson 2 months ago in Identity
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Queer Actor Qya Cristal Makes Their Film Debut

Qya Cristal in A Lasting First Impression

Queer non-binary actor Qya Cristal makes their lead acting debut in A Lasting First Impression, a film starring RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Kelly Mantle.

While Mantle plays a cabaret performer, mourning over the loss of her deceased brother, Cristal takes on the role of Mantle’s drag queen friend, Naomi. “The story dives deep into who the characters are, their relationships with each other, and how each strives to cope with loss,” Cristal explains.

The depth of the film, and the fact that it depicts drag queens as three-dimensional characters, is important. “So many films portray drag queens as funny clowns to laugh along with but in A Lasting First Impression, we’re human,” Cristal reflects. “We’re depicted as characters that have lives, complications, triumphs, and slumps.

“The more we can integrate drag culture into film and TV, the better it will be for our society as a whole. Drag performers are not some strange ‘other’, we work in your communities, live in your neighborhoods, and can coexist peacefully.”

Kelly Mantle and drag queens in the film.

The production was filmed in Albany and upstate New York, something Qya Cristal admits having concerns over, at least initially. “I’m so used to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where I live, I had no idea how I would be received in traditional America,” they laugh. “I put my best foot forward and came at the experience with the utmost positivity.”

They credit director Chris Gaunt with making the experience a happy one. “The great thing about working with Chris Gaunt and crew was their willingness to listen to feedback about how I felt a line should be delivered in order to deliver the most authentic portrayal of Naomi.”

For his part, Gaunt echoes the sentiment. “Qya was a delight to work with on set. Despite their relative lack of film acting experience, Qya was able to pick things up incredibly fast.

“We had several great discussions on how best to develop the persona of Naomi,"Gaunt continues. "The most important thing was that Qya embody and become Naomi in the most natural and authentic way so that the character was not forced or unreal.”

Jennier Lefsyk as Jess Hayes and Qya Crysal as Naomi Shuga

We spoke with Qya Crystal from their home in Provincetown.

Growing up, was film always a big part of your life?

No. I grew up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, about 100 miles south of St. Louis; right on the Mississippi River. Both my parents were religious. Church every Sunday plus I attended Sunday School and Wednesday Choir Practice. I was protected from the ‘evils of The World’. I wasn’t even allowed to watch Disney princess movies because it was seen as a gateway to ‘unholy thoughts’. Crazy right?

That's terrible!

Luckily, I was a 90’s kid, so I found diversity and inclusion on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and even The Disney Channel. I loved shows like Hey Arnold, Cousin Skeeter, and That’s So Raven. They had a way of explaining difficult subjects like death, racism, classism, sexism, misogyny, eating and mental disorders, in a way that was smart and entertaining. They also taught me that I, too, could be successful if I worked hard.

How did your family react to your coming out as queer?

Whew, well, that wasn’t easy. I came out to my parents at 21, after having been at Berklee College of Music for a couple years, and, well, it ended with me leaving college and not looking back. It’s been ten years now and I haven’t been home since. Fortunately, I’ve found my tribe in Provincetown, and I’ve been able to reconnect with my parents and let them know that it wasn’t ‘just a phase’ and that they didn’t ‘fail as parents’. In fact, the lessons they taught me about respecting myself, as well as others, are ingrained into the core of who I am as a person, and I will forever be grateful for that.

Qya Crystal

In A Lasting First Impression, Charleigh, played by Kelly Mantle, is desperate for the approval from her family. Can you relate?

Absolutely. For years I wanted nothing more than to prove to Mom and Dad that I could make it on my own without any help. I wanted to show them that I could be gay and successful and, more than anything, I wanted them to be proud of the child they raised. I wanted them to know that they raised a responsible, morally sound, and gracious person.

Is it true that you said a little prayer to your grandmother before filming every scene?

It is true! Since age three, I was heavily involved in the church. After leaving home and coming out, I left religion for a while to see what else the world had to offer. Recently, I’ve been getting back in touch with my spiritual self. My grandmother passed away last year and I’ve opened my mind and heart to the idea of allowing her to share her energy with me; especially before I’m about to perform.

How do you identify today?

I think the best description of me is non-binary. I love living life on the spectrum and having the freedom to dress literally however I want. I honestly don’t mind which pronoun people choose to use for me, but if they call me “Sir” while I’m in full drag, after knowing how long it took for me to transform myself into this beautiful creature, I will not be having it! (Laughs)

Has the world become more tolerant and accepting of the drag community?

I believe so. With the recent popularity of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, I find that many queens are being looked at as serious actors, singers, dancers, and all-around entertainers. Of course, we’ll always have those pockets of society that frown upon the art, but I’m so glad that we’re making it clear that we exist, and we’re not going anywhere.

We are seeing an increase in legislation targeting LGBTQ folks, particularly the trans community. Your thoughts?

I believe a lot of cisgender heterosexual men are terrified that their idea of what’s normal will never be the same again. Their desire to Make America Great Again is inherently rooted in sexism, racism, and misogyny, which, for whatever reason, they cannot see as problematic. I’m particularly concerned with the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade as it is obvious that they will be coming for LGBTQ rights next.

How does being a person of color impact the LGBTQ experience?

Being black in America is an experience unto itself. Being gay and black is its own unique experience. Being gay, black, and a drag entertainer, is like the ultimate evolution.

How so?

There are experiences that I’m going through that I’ve had to accept others will fundamentally never understand. Many of my LGBTQ friends haven’t felt the fear of getting pulled over by the police. Many of my black friends have never felt the objectification that comes along with being a drag performer.

Jennier Lefsyk as Jess Hayes and Qya Crysal as Naomi Shuga

I have to ask… your thoughts on Mattel introducing the Laverne Cox Barbie doll?

I am obsessed and so proud of Ms. Cox for her accomplishment!

What do you hope audiences take away from A Lasting First Impression?

I hope audiences walk away inspired to keep an open mind and heart. You truly never know what someone else is going through at any particular moment in their life. Try to listen and understand the people you love and tell them that you love them. We never know how much time we have together on this plane of existence.



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Ben Nelson

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