Is the Statue of Liberty a 300-foot drag queen? According to this documentary, she might well be
A new documentary tracing the Statue of Liberty’s history has resurfaced an old rumour: that Lady Liberty might be hiding a secret underneath her green gown.
The Statue of Liberty has watched proudly over New York City for more than 130 years, but the truth of her origins eludes historians to this day.
For decades it was thought its sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, had based Lady Liberty on his mother.
But in 2016, journalist and author Elizabeth Mitchell suggested that there might be a different familial connection.
There’s a rumour it’s Bartholdi’s brother.
“Going through photos [Bartholdi] had in his files of his brother, I started to look at the face more carefully, and it really did look to be like Liberty,” she told The New York Post.
“His brother in his adult years had actually gone mad, and it was Bartholdi’s task to go once a week to visit, sometimes [spending] hours just staring at his brother, who was not speaking.”
Liberty: Mother of Exiles, which premiered on Thursday, October 17, on HBO, finds a pair of RuPaul’s Drag Race producers revisiting this theory.
“You know, there’s a rumour it’s Bartholdi’s brother,” Randy Barbato, the film’s director, told Salon.
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Diane von Furstenberg is the Statue of Liberty’s godmother.
Barbato co-directed the film with his long-time collaborator Fenton Bailey. Together, the men serve as executive producers on RuPaul’s Drag Race, having founded the company that makes it, World of Wonder.
Mother of Exiles follows two main narrative strands: the statue’s origins and the construction of a recently opened museum at its base.
Designer Diane von Furstenberg takes a lead role as the statue’s “godmother”, a title she earned by raising $100 million to fund the museum.
While making the documentary, Barbato explored another possibility: that Lady Liberty was based on a Muslim woman.
As the theory goes, Bartholdi had planned to create a statue at the foot of the Suez Canal in Egypt, based on sketches of an Egyptian Muslim woman.
Edward Berenson, author of Statue of Liberty: A Translatlantic Story, says that the project was abandoned due to cost, but the original idea was repurposed into what eventually became the Statue of Liberty.
Barbato told the Guardian that in light of Donald Trump’s 2017 Muslim travel ban, “the possibility that the Statue of Liberty might be based on a Muslim woman is kind of surprising and somehow beautifully poetic”.