Gay Iconography | Hedwig and the Angry Inch | John Cameron Mitchell

Gay Iconography: Flipping Our Wigs For 'Hedwig' Creator John Cameron Mitchell


With Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway receiving rave reviews, there’s plenty of praise being heaped on star Neil Patrick Harris; but what of Hedwig originator, queer writer, director and filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell? One wonders how he would wear the mantle of gay icon. Would he be comfortable being tasked as a representative of the gay community?

“I get a little homophobic lately when I meet young people who just assume that this is what you’re supposed to be because you’re gay,” he told The Advocate in 2011. “It makes me feel like I’m in some sort of frat society where you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to listen to that, you’ve got to wear these clothes.”

But it’s that non-conformist streak that makes him all the more vital. Just ask his friend, and author of The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, Michael Warner: “He is an icon of outspokenness, hope, and humor,” Warner said in a NY Magazine profile of Mitchell in 2006. “The people who respond to John tend to be ... people outside the middle class who don’t see themselves in the image of Will & Grace.”

His career has spanned stage (in addition to Hedwig, he earned an Obie Award and Drama Desk nomination for his work in the sequel to Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, The Destiny of Me), television and, oddly enough, voicing Sydney, the kangaroo mascot for Dunk-A-Roos. Then there’s his film work, where he’s brilliantly pushed boundaries and told powerful stories that speak to experiences -- gay, straight and otherwise.

See some of our favorite Mitchell moments, and share your own in the comments, AFTER THE JUMP


Hedwig and the Angry Inch first debuted off-Broadway in 1998, with Mitchell in the starring role. Written by Mitchell and composed by Stephen Trask, the story follows the titular character (a German, transgender glam rocker) on a quest to track down the ex-lover that stole her songs. (Mitchell has said he and Trask are currently working on a sequel though the Broadway show may be that sequel - as it contains the same songs but an updated plot that has been moved forward in time from the show's original setting).



The stage show was made into a movie in 2001, also starring Mitchell. He received a Golden Globe nomination for the part.

There was much ado about the unsimulated sex in Mitchell’s 2006 spectacular film, Shortbus. Yes, there’s lots of graphic scenes, but it’s the beautiful spirit the film captures that makes it worth the watch. One favorite scene is when Ceth (musician Jay Brannan) chats with a fictitious former mayor of New York about the AIDS crisis (allusions to Ed Koch are hard to miss). The scene does cutaway to some bare breasts, so you can find the NSFW clip here. The film won awards at film festivals in Athens, Gijón and Zurish, as well as an Independent Spirit Award.



Before NPH slipped into Hedwig’s blonde wig, Mitchell worked with A-list stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart when he directed the 2010 film, Rabbit Hole. The drama follows two parents grieving the loss of their son. “Sometimes with American awards I feel like instead of Best Acting they’re going for Most Acting of the Year. Most Directing. Americans like excess,” he told Next Magazine. “We were trying to get back to the Hollywood dramas that were restrained.”



Recently, Mitchell appeared as Hannah (Lena Dunham)’s manic e-book editor on the HBO series Girls. You can catch a glimpse of his character in the beginning of the clip above.

What’s been your favorite piece of Mitchell’s work?

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  1. don't forget Derrick in the movie Party Girl. (do forget Party Girl the TV series).

    JCM is a prominent artist, respected and even admired, but iconic? Too early to call him that.

    Posted by: verbocity eric | Apr 26, 2014 2:04:55 PM

  2. i saw hedwig on the closing night. my friend marianne and i were very lucky to get tickets. he was terrific. we were sitting right up front. it felt like a cabaret. what a great time.

    Posted by: woody | Apr 26, 2014 2:40:04 PM


    Oh, How I love him! Hedwig, the film version, was released a year after i Came Out - and it became my family's new favourite movie and CD to sing along to. Shortbus - had a profound affect on me; walked out of that cinema a changed person. I cried for like two hours. And with Rabbit Hole he continues to show that he's a director with a razor sharp insight into the human experience


    OH, also - The Secret Garden, original broadway cast recording. WERK.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Apr 26, 2014 2:53:15 PM

  4. I remember walking out of the theater after the first time I saw Hedwig in '98. I was with 2 others and we were just speechless and smiling. What had we just experienced? It was magnificent. The music, the story and the way it was delivered (almost entirely by JCM himself as Hedwig) and the transformative space of that stage. It was a site-specific performance that utilized its location in the Jane Street Theater (Jane Hotel) next to the Hudson to bring in another level of reality to the stage by making the audience believe there was a concert going on across the water in NJ by Tommy Gnosis. Breaking the 5th wall? A very smart move by JCM and demonstrates his interest in moving past "normalcy" and not letting what's expected to get in his way.

    Posted by: Lucca | Apr 26, 2014 2:55:29 PM

  5. I remember watching "Band of the Hand" (1986) on cable several times when I was a kid -- it was always playing on The Movie Channel during the day -- and even though I didn't know who he was at the time, I remember being struck by his troubled juvenile delinquent character -- he brought all this rebel/outsider/queer energy to the role, creating a completely new and unique model for "being a boy," that I appreciate so much more now that I am older.

    Posted by: Neil | Apr 26, 2014 6:01:43 PM

  6. Besides "Hedwig," "Shortbus" & "Rabbit Hole" are freaking masterpieces.

    Posted by: Dback | Apr 26, 2014 10:15:23 PM

  7. Loved Hedwig, and Shortbus was mind-blowing. I wanted to be/go there (Shortbus), and ultimately found out where and how, in my mind, to do it.

    Later met the two Jamies at a Shortbus-like event (they were nude)--wow.

    Posted by: kdknyc | Apr 26, 2014 10:57:24 PM

  8. There is so much true fun in this. I used to wear girls dresses at age 5. All my friends were girls. Went out on Halloween. Neighbor asked, "Who are you?" My friends replied--witches, pirates and ghosts--I said "I'm Beverly" (named for my father's secretary) That name was used against me as a weapon during youth. It was shortened to "Bev" as a threat.

    Posted by: Gary | Apr 28, 2014 12:23:49 PM

  9. I adore JCM. Hedwig and Shortbus are 2 of my favourite films.

    Posted by: Peter Hargmier | Apr 29, 2014 3:52:09 AM

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