American Filmmaker John Waters made his mark in the 1970s with his “Trash Trilogy” which included films such as Female Trouble (1974) and Desperate Living (1977), but his 1972 Pink Flamingos would be his shining star. Pink Flamingos stars Drag Queen Divine who has the title of “filthiest person alive.” The Marbles are envious of Divine who goes by the name of Babs Johnson causing them to try to take away Divine’s title. When Pink Flamingos first came out in 1972, the film was 92 minutes, but the 1997 re-release was 107 minutes which included deleted scenes. When Pink Flamingos first came out in the 1970s, it was a major controversy.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave Pink Flamingos an NC-17 rating meaning that no one under 17 could watch the film. Pink Flamingos received the rating for its explicit details and adult topics causing it to be initially banned in countries such as Switzerland and Australia as well as some parts of Canada and Norway. Even though Pink Flamingos was seen as disturbing to many viewers, it was a massive hit in the Big Apple.
Pink Flamingos gained a cult following in New York City mostly by the LGBTQ+ community. With the Stonewall Riots happening a few years prior, Pink Flamingos finally showed gender and sexual diversity on the big screen, especially with the main character being a Drag Queen. The cult following that the film acquired led to a 95-week midnight screening run in New York City, but the west coast caught on with Los Angeles running it for ten straight years.
Pink Flamingos is the type of film that people either love or hate, and Waters knew that when he released it. Waters wanted the film to feel more like an event by giving people a new movie-going experience. The documentary style of shooting, which included constant zooming in and out, made the audience feel like they were invading the Johnsons’ personal life and space. Having a strong stomach is needed to watch Pink Flamingos because of its explicit nature and graphic imagery. Putting that aside, the film is very entertaining because of how unpredictable all of the characters are. Who would of thought that people would be cheering on “the filthiest person alive.”
Pink Flamingos’ immense popularity had led it to be considered one of the most important queer films of all time. Waters had considered creating a sequel titled Flamingos Forever, but Divine did not feel the time was right and Actress Edith Massey who played Divine’s mom had died. The screenplay would later be published in Waters’ 1988 book Trash Trio giving an audience a chance to experience Flamingos Forever. In 2021, the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress decided to preserve Pink Flamingos for its cultural and historic importance. Even though Pink Flamingos was considered a “trash film,” it was a treasure to others. It gave a voice to the voiceless who felt that their gender identity or sexual orientation was a shameful crime that should be hidden. Waters gave people hope by sharing his biggest star Divine while also giving people a sense of relief through laughter and shock value. Pink Flamingos was far from trash. It was important and some could say “Divine.”
About the Author
Stephanie Morales Macedo is an intern at the Free State Festival and a recent graduate of the University of Kansas with majors in Journalism and Film. Learn more about Stephanie in our recent blog!