Performer/choreographer/filmmaker Maxie Milieu still believes the sex is in the heel, and reminisces on how queer culture (and transgender politics) have evolved in the 10 years since Kinky Boots first hit theatres.

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“Ladies, Gentlemen, and those who have yet to make up their minds.”

There are few things I love in life more than a good pair of shoes. Put on the proper pair and the entire person can transform. Or, as the 2005 film Kinky Boots posits, the kind of shoes a person is wearing can tell you everything about them. 10 years ago I was an isolated teenager ravenously devouring movies at 2 a.m. on our limited BBC subscription that came with our new On Demand trial. For me, Absolutely Fabulous, Coupling, The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, and Kinky Boots all arrived in my life at the same time. For a child raised on pop culture who could communicate almost exclusively in Birdcage and Moonstruck quotes, these films spoke my language. In much the same way as Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet, and Moulin Rouge comprise Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy, The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, and Kinky Boots seem to me a complete set of quirky British underdog films. They also would eventually all go on to become Broadway musicals. 10 years ago I didn’t identify as queer, I wasn’t in a relationship with a trans person, I’d yet to do any leather manufacturing, or work as a club dancer or a burlesque performer. 10 years ago I may have just purchased my first pair of heels: teal t-strap peep toes that were glowing brightly at the display in Nordstrom. But here we are, 10 years later. Much like our film’s protagonist, Lola, who retraces her steps skipping across the uneven planks of a pier years after we see her do so in the opening sequence, let’s re-dance our steps. All I hope is that I don’t inspire something burgundy.

When we see Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor!) on the pier for the opening sequence, we are introduced to our film’s central tenants and trials. As Lola covertly slips on some fantastic red stilettos, glancing back apprehensively to make sure her father doesn’t see, she becomes herself. Embodied in one pair of red heels is the promise of the film: the limitless possibility of becoming yourself. When Lola’s father raps on the window snapping us out of this freeing introduction, dismissing Lola as a “stupid boy,” we are reminded that becoming yourself is fucking work.

We are introduced to our other protagonist, Charlie (Joel Edgerton), via the family business of shoes. We get the clear sense that Charlie, in his shitty trainers, is not invested in this business. When his father dies, he takes over the business realizing it is in severe financial trouble. After making over a dozen employees redundant, he is challenged to find a solution by one of the women he laid off. A chance encounter with Lola in London, where in defending herself Lola accidentally knocks Charlie out, leads to the spark of an idea to make shoes for the niche market of Drag Queens.

After an initial prototype failure, in which Charlie makes the least alluring pair of boots in all the land, Lola gives us my favorite monologue in the film. Disgusted at the burgundy color of the boots and appalled by the utilitarian heel. Lola break it down for us: The shoe is about sex, and the sex is in the heel. YES LOLA! “REEEEEDDDD” she purrs, the boots need to be red. The concept of the steel shank is born and we are off to montage land as provincial Northhamptoners, a shoe factory owner, and a Drag Queen work together to create two feet of irresistible cylindrical sex for the Milan Fashion Show. We overcome stereotypes and prejudices, fight the onslaught of progress (Charlie’s fiancée wants to turn the factory in to condos), and make a damn fine pair of boots.

Scattered throughout the film are Lola’s Drag performances. They act complementarily with the montages of boot-making, knotting together this process of manufacturing with the manufacturing of dreams. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable juxtaposition. Though I wish that Lola was not our sole speaking representative of the Drag and Trans world, as well as the only POC actor in the film, the performances give the film the tone of a spectacular in the way a pure narrative couldn’t do. Lola enlivens the possibilities of the boot-making endeavor and makes it something much bigger than just selling a product to a niche market. The boots are hopes, and dreams, and freedom, and truth, and sex, and desire, and power. When the first pair of completed boots rolls down the conveyer belt and we watch Lola gleefully pluck them up and slide that long zipper up her thigh, it is just pure magic. When she flicks the whip THAT HAS ITS OWN BOOT POCKET up the length of the boot, tucking it snugly in to place, the feeling of satisfaction and excitement is phenomenal. I think if I had a pair of those thigh-high, whip-concealing, RED boots, I could do anything.

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Things seems well on their way until Charlie begins to lose his chill. Pushing the craftsmen too hard in his drive for perfection they walk out, leaving the order unfinished. However, the people of the factory come together again to finish the order after they are rallied by our everyman “Don,” who was initially hateful toward Lola but grew as a human being and overcame all his lifelong prejudices in the course of 40 minutes. The order completed, all seems to be going well until Lola invites Charlie to a celebratory dinner and, while she has been “dressing down” in the factory, comes fully glammed out. Charlie hits his own prejudices dead on (gotta watch out for that pesky white male cis privilege always waiting to rear its ugly head) and insults and berates Lola in a way that, 10 years later, I find unforgivable. Charlie and a select few factory people head to Milan, sans Lola. When Charlie’s confesses to his new love interest that he was a douchecanoe to Lola and now they have no models, she challenges him, yet again, to figure something out. Charlie decides to walk the runway alone. In a scene that I’m sure inspired every “Let’s make the models wear dangerously high heels so they fall for entertainment” challenge on America’s Next Top Model, Charlie, quite literally, falls all over himself on the runway. He lies in a crumpled, disgraced, defeated pile, wearing a suit top, underwear and the aforementioned fantastic boots. Mirroring his vision early in the film, while facedown on the catwalk, he sees a pair of shiny red heels glimmering like a vision. It’s Lola! Come to save the day with her choreographed Drag runway extravaganza to “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” Fuck yes, this is what I’m here for. The number is a smash, the factory is saved, and Lola closes us out with one more number (after resolving the tension between her and Charlie).

Thoughts on the terminology used in the film. Kinky Boots uses the word Transvestite or Drag Queen to describe Lola. For where I stand in Seattle, WA in the U.S., 10 years later, conflating Drag performance with Trans identity is a no. While trans performers can and do perform drag, the identities are not one in the same. Transgender would also likely be the appropriate terminology for Lola in 2016. Overall in the film, Lola is described by her chosen pronouns of “she” and “her” except by “Don,” our stand-in for all bigotry and hatred. It gets a little muddy toward the end when our white cis dude (Charlie), after berating Lola as someone who is just a man in a dress and calling her Simon and asking her to show up looking like her passport, leaves a moving message to Lola explaining that he doesn’t know what a man is and complimenting that “she is more of a man than [he] could ever be.” It’s almost as if the film is striving to use “man” as a metaphor. Successful? Perhaps partially. Shoes make the man, man makes the shoes, shoes for a woman who is a man. There’s a great deal going on here. 10 years ago when I watched the film, none of these politics were on my mind. Watching 10 years later, my overall thought is that the film is perhaps even more relevant today as marginalized communities continue to strive for more visibility and equal rights. As technogiants take over our cities and begin to make us artists and individuals redundant. Kinky Boots is a true modern Cinderella story. It confronts the discomfort of our cis characters in a way that makes them reevaluate their suppositions. It does not always do this without sparing Lola discomfort, but it demands that we get to Lola’s level.

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is a well-acted, thoroughly enjoyable underdog film. It hit me more deeply 10 years later as my age and life experience made the trials of the film far more applicable to my life. Progress is churning ahead even more rapidly than 10 years ago. The fantastic elements of the drag performances seem banal and everyday to me in my current burlesque world. The truly uplifting moments come in the character interactions and the truth of the simple and everyday strife of attempting to be true to yourself.

Also, it has enough shots of feet to make my former ballerina heart happy.

Additional Thoughts:

– 10 years later, we are still very fixated on bathroom issues. The landlady that Lola is staying with asks “Can I just ask, are you a man?” When Lola responds in the affirmative the landlady responds, “Ah that’s fine, just sos I know how to leave the toilet seat. I’ll get some biscuits.” Clearly a moment of levity, meant to show Lola acceptance from an unlikely place, highlights the fixation on gender and bathroom. In fact, one of the major emotional scenes of the film takes place in a bathroom. After showing up dressed down to the factory, Lola hides in the men’s bathroom where she identifies herself as Simon to Charlie and recounts her childhood struggles with her father. Clearly gender identity and bathroom use are just as entrenched today as they were 10 years ago.

– One of the most compassionate moments in the film is when Lola and Don are having an arm wrestling competition. Lola is about to best Don when she looks in to his eyes and realizes that this is all he has in life. That his identity is fundamentally tied to this show of masculinity. She lets him win. #masculinitysofragile

– I am not in to 2005 shoe fashions. All strappy, and kind of low heels. No, just not my style. As someone who has a pair of Jimmy Choos, I hate the ones that the lesbian              ghost from Hex fanned over.

– The older man, George, who suggests the steel shank, is my favorite side character in this film. He is just so loving to those boots.

– I love that the drag show runway spectacular just leaves Charlie flat on the catwalk while they stomp it out over him.

– Lola, don’t give up your show to work in the shoe factory! Look at that stage! Those lights! The costumes!

– I wish Lola had a love interest.

– I am very sad that the original factory that made “kinky boots” no longer does so.

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