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‘Alaska is a Drag’ Movie Brings Shameless Maya Full Circle at Urbanworld

(l-r): Martin L. Washington Jr. and Maya Washington filming a scene in 'Alaska is a Drag.' Photo © Shameless Maya. All rights reserved.When the Urbanworld Film Festival revealed its 2017 slate, the queer drama Alaska is a Drag stood out as the most familiar title among all 80 official selections. I immediately recalled the days when Maya Washington, a Canadian actress also known as Shameless Maya on YouTube, was vlogging about her experiences working on this movie.

It's nice to see her hard work and dedication finally paying off as Alaska is a Drag makes its East Coast Premiere at AMC Theatres.

Originally a short film directed by Shaz Bennett, the movie is about a fish cannery worker named Leo who lives in a small Alaskan town where he dreams of becoming a drag superstar. When a boxing coach offers to train him for an upcoming match, Leo must face the real reason he is stuck in Alaska. Washington plays Leo’s tough-as-nails twin sister Tristen who teaches him how to fight back against bullies.

The Shameless Maya brand was also instrumental in helping secure production funds on Kickstarter to turn Alaska is a Drag into a feature film. Before the screenplay landed in Washington's lap, however, she struggled to find acting jobs while living in New York City. In addition to spending years receiving numerous rejections from casting directors while auditioning for roles in film and television, the devout Christian was also kicked out of acting school.

Maya Washington as GAMORA in Marvel's 'Guardians of the Galaxy.' Photo © Shameless Maya. All Rights Reserved.Not wanting to give up on her dreams, Washington landed gigs as a voice actor and later took matters into her own hands by starting a YouTube channel where she made videos transforming herself into well-known pop culture figures such as Storm from X-Men, GAMORA from Guardians of the Galaxy and Beyonce in "Flawless."

In five years and counting that her Shameless Maya channel has been active, Washington relocated to Los Angeles and now produces original content for national brands such as TOMS shoes and the beauty care line Alaffia.

Being among Shameless Maya's million "boos" – and one who watched the actress' work since she was crashing NY Fashion Week, releasing hip-hop music, and making curly hair tutorials – it’s nice to see her latest return to New York City by way of the big screen. Maya Washington went from repeatedly being told she wasn't good enough for this part and that part, to being offered a major role in a film without having to audition for it. Congratulations to Shameless Maya on how far you’ve come -- from New York to L.A. and back again!

Maya Washington performing a stunt scene while on set for 'Alaska is a Drag.' Photo © Shameless Maya. All Rights Reserved.This time, the woman who once boldly shaved all her hair off LIVE on YouTube to send a message about combating fear, returns with a movie where she gets to flex her acting muscles in front of the Urbanworld crowd.

Alaska is a Drag, starring Martin L. Washington Jr., Maya Washington, Matt Dallas, Christopher O’Shea, Jason Scott Lee, Margaret Cho and Kevin Daniels is screening 12:00 PM on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at AMC Empire Theater 9 in the Urbanworld Film Festival's U.S Narrative Features competition.


New Film Studio on the Horizon

Do you remember that scene in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) where Yen asks “Where the fuck you been?” after Danny and Linus took a mighty long time to open the casino vault? That summarizes my thoughts every time I stopped by here in the last few months.

For the Yen's among us, here’s a summary of what’s been happening around the Madlab universe this summer.

I moved into a workspace where I’m building a film studio that will operate as an exhibition space for short films, production house to produce television programming for city dwellers and overall headquarters to support my work in the arts as well as works by other independent media creators. The short film Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever was also entered for consideration for two cable television awards, recognizing programs that resonate with a mission of promoting civic engagement on a local level, and democratic values through collaboration.

An attempt to see the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me led to me watching Transformers: The Last Knight instead (more details on that to follow) and I ended up going to see Girls Trip despite my lack of interest in this movie. Also, I plan to explain why STEP is a prime example of the best and worst aspects of modern-day cinema for young black girls.

What movies have YOU seen this summer?



In Memory of Film Organizer Vijay Mohan

"We could all be much better people if we tried" - Vijay Mohan 

Today marks two years since Vijay "Jay" Mohan was killed in a bicycle accident and it's still hard to believe he's gone. The last time I remember seeing Jay prior to then was in front of the box office/information table on my way to a matinee film screening at the University of Pennsylvania.

Although our conversation was brief, his smile and upbeat manner put me at ease that day.

Prior to my arrival, I was rushing, trying to not be late for the show and he remembered me from PhillyCAM, the television station where he worked as a tech guru. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that he knew me at all. I figure, I'm just some random person who pops in there ever so often. Nevertheless, it was great to see a familiar face in the building.

We laughed about him being everywhere in the city in terms of its film scene -- from Scribe Video Center to the Philadelphia Asian Film Festival and beyond. That's why it comes as no surprise to hear his friends and colleagues describe how tirelessly he worked to improve the lives of others. Still, this is the first season that the loss has really started to sink in, having been to recent local events and notice he’s not there.

When I first read a newsletter mention of the station's tragic loss, back in 2015, I was in denial. I told myself that it meant he found a new job. Then, I didn't hear anything else about him, his new work or even see him the few times when I would pop by the station or at any other film screenings. Soon, Jay's friends, colleagues and family in the U.S. came together to coordinate the return of his remains to Kerala, India; where his mother resides.

Later that summer, Charles Patierno performed a nice jazz tribute celebrating Jay's life, during the Electricity music series. Today I write this in honor of Jay, the Wu-Tang loving Temple University student who brought light and love to all of the lives he touched. He showed me what it looks like to be active and involved in the things that you’re passionate about. May the community of media makers in Philly continue to remember him as someone whose words "make us want to live and love intentionally."

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