THE TRUTH ABOUT GRANNY
From: The Sunday
Times - 2 July 2000
are about to be answered, writes CRAIG JACOBS
Did South Africa's most notorious party animal, drag queen Granny
Lee, pictured above, get married to a man called Otto in Durban?
What was Lee's real age? And where is her body really buried? Those
are some of the questions which could be laid to rest by a documentary
airing later this month.
Metamorphosis: The Remarkable Life of Granny Lee , explores the
life of the drag artiste who died in a car accident in 1989 as an
81-year-old white woman - but was born Leonard Malcolm Christian
Du Plooy, a coloured man.
famed for her outrageous party clothes, became a fixture of the
gay nightclubbing scene in Johannesburg during the '80s.
Schwinges said the documentary, which took four months to complete,
tries to capture the life of one of the country's most striking
characters. " Granny Lee personifies somebody who transformed themselves
during the apartheid years. Someone who changed colour, becoming
the first non-white person that we know of to be buried in Johannesburg's
West Park whites-only cemetery."
said there were a number of obstacles during the making of the documentary,
which is directed by Luiz de Barros.
"One of the
biggest challenges was the distances she moved and the people she
interacted with. A lot of people were not willing to talk, either
on- or off-camera. People like sex workers or people who underwent
slam down the telephone when we called , particularly in rural areas
like Kimberley. That was hardest - trying to find out about Granny
Lee as a coloured male. Friends of her family refused to speak.
"But the most
difficult problem the filmmakers faced was finding someone who could
look and sound like her for the programme's scene recreations. "We
were looking for a look-alike. We cast as many people as we knew
who might potentially be similar to Granny Lee, the legend. We had
to find two people - one for the voice and one for the look," he
had to separate the facts from the legends which Lee helped create
about her life.
created her own legends and stories. A lot was made up. She said
things that could not possibly be true. Everybody heard about Otto,
who supposedly married her but there was no evidence that he existed.
dramatic things that made research difficult. These ranged from
her actual age to the nature of her death. It was possible that
they moved her body [because of Lee's race] and kept quiet about
ex-chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade was a friend of
Lee's and was interviewed for the documentary.
"She was such
an important person," Abdullah said. "She was out, and a granny
and enjoyed life to the fullest. She made people realise you don't
live a weekend homosexual life. She was just being herself and heavily
documentary pools archival footage - including 200 photos taken
of the drag artiste who was the toast of the Johannesburg gay scene
- with clips of her words, interviews with people who knew her and
recreations of incidents in her life.