Drag Queens And Indians, Or What Cher And Peter Pan Have In Common

By Aaron Scott (OPB)
Sept. 21, 2016 10:19 p.m.
Unlike most boys of his age, Anthony Hudson identified more with Tiger Lily than Peter Pan.

Unlike most boys of his age, Anthony Hudson identified more with Tiger Lily than Peter Pan.

Photo by Chelsea Petrakis

The multimedia artist Anthony Hudson is best known around Portland for his drag queen persona, Carla Rossi — a white-faced clown of a queen who bills herself as the "ghost of white privilege."

But now Hudson is going to drop the make up, or, at least the wig, for a full-length performance exploring his own identity as a half-white, half-Native American kid that's called "Looking for Tiger Lily," at the Hollywood Theater Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

"I'm German on my mom's side and a Grand Ronde tribal member on my dad's side," Hudson, who grew up in Keizer, Oregon, said. "I wasn't raised with a lot of traditions from my dad's side, and yet I would watch 'Peter Pan,' and 'Peter Pan' kind of became how I related to this idea of natives through pop culture, through Tiger Lily."

The opening of the show is Carla Rossi and a group of back-up dancers reenacting the scene from the 1960 film of "Peter Pan" starring Mary Martin, Hudson's favorite version, where Tiger Lily and her Pickininny Indians are on the war path.


Poster by Matty Newton

"Carla's always going to do the wrong thing: so she's going to open my show doing basically a minstrel number as Tiger Lily," Hudson said. "And then the rest of the show is me explaining where that came from and why, and ultimately, me pushing myself to do my favorite song from the Mary Martin musical, which is 'Ugg A Wugg.' "

Of course, "Peter Pan" isn't the only pop culture phenomenon that influenced Hudson's sense of heritage. Along with the Disney movie "Pocahontas," the image on the Land O' Lakes butter box, and Indian Halloween costumes, there was also Cher's song "Half-Breed."

"'My father married a pure Cherokee — my mother's people were ashamed of me,'" he recites. "That song really hit me because, for the first time, I felt that somebody else was echoing exactly what I had felt all my life growing up. Except it's by someone who wasn't native ... It is another example of a thing that doesn't come from the culture itself, and yet growing up with it in pop culture, I had such a response to it that it became integral to how I saw myself."

In addition to back up dancers, Hudson also brings the "gangster of classical music," Maria Choban, as an accompanist who has re-arranged the songs Hudson sings, a slide show of photos of his youth and family, and polished, self-made videos riffing off things like "Jurassic Park."

"It's a cabaret, it's a play, it's a remixed version of story telling, it's a slide show," Hudson said with a laugh. "This is basically my chance to invite an entire audience to a free therapy session with me."

Hear the full conversation, including excerpts from the movies and songs Hudson talks about and a little channeling of Carlo Rossi, in the player above.