At Tuesday night’s New York premiere of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann was on the hot pink carpet to speak with the film’s producer and star Jessica Chastain, her co-stars Cherry Jones and Mark Wystrach, director Michael Showalter, and screenwriter Abe Sylvia, along with World of Wonder founders Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato whose 2000 documentary the film is based on. Fashion designer and Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott spoke with us about his recollections of watching Tammy Faye on television, while RuPaul’s Drag Race star Scarlet Envy gave us an insight into creating her Tammy Faye inspired look for the night.
A key moment in both the documentary and the new film is a 1985 interview that the late televangelist Tammy Faye conducted live on her Christian broadcast network, PTL, with activist and AIDS-survivor Rev. Steve Pieters, who was in attendance at New York’s SVA Theatre.
“At a time when the US government wasn’t comfortable even talking about the AIDS epidemic”, Jessica Chastain reflects, “and it was ravaging communities and killing so many people, Tammy Faye brought Steve Pieters on her show, which was one of the most watched television programs in the United States with a huge following of Christians. She talked to him about him being HIV positive and AIDS, and what that meant in terms of how people viewed him.”
“She looked at her audience”, continues Chastain, “and she said, ‘We as Christians need to love everyone and throw our arms around them’. She talked about him coming out to his family and how difficult that was, and that his his parents accepted him no matter what. She also told her audience, ‘we as mommies and daddies need to love through anything, and that’s the way with Jesus’. I believe that interview saved lives, because at a time when people were afraid to come out, when they were being ostracized by their families because their families were being told that you have to follow one set of rules, Tammy’s set of rules is that everyone is deserving of love and God’s grace. For me, that makes her such a badass and I’m so excited to celebrate her for that.”
Tammy Faye’s message of compassion and acceptance in that interview, as well as her distinctive makeup and wigs, contributed to her continued status as a gay icon, and honorary drag queen, beloved by RuPaul who narrated the documentary about her, interviewed her on the The RuPaul Show in 90s, and regularly references her on Drag Race with line “everybody loves puppets.”
Watch our series of interviews from The Eyes of Tammy Faye New York premiere below. The film opens in US theaters on Friday September 17th and Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s 2000 documentary is streaming now WOW Presents Plus.
The 6:30pm showing of The Eyes of Tammy Faye at Cinépolis Chelsea on Friday September 17th will be followed by a Q&A with Jessica Chastain.