The 2019 Mummers Parade may have had more LGBTQ representation on its judging panel, but many spectators said minority groups still need more visibility in Philadelphia’s iconic annual celebration.
Ian Morrison, who performs as the popular Philadelphia drag queen Brittany Lynn, served on the parade judging panel for the first time. He was one of only two drag queens in the parade’s history to be a judge, said Leo Dignam, the parade’s director.
“The experience was amazing, to be on the other side of things,” Morrison said. “It felt great to represent the community and take part in something I’ve loved doing for years. I know this tradition — which has made a complete turn around — will continue to thrive and adapt for future generations.”
Morrison told PGN prior to the parade that being a Mummers judge was “a much needed step in the right direction for LGBTQ representation” as the parade works to be more inclusive and diverse.
Marion McKellan, a first-time Mummers Parade spectator from Wilmington, Del., said she expected to see more queer representation in a city renowned for its LGBT population.
“I thought I would at least see a few LGBTQ groups or LGBTQ-inspired themes in the parade, but I haven’t seen any,” she said during Tuesday’s event. “Philly is known for having a lot of queer people but I’m not seeing much of the community here.”
According to a 2015 Gallup analysis report, nearly four percent of Philadelphia residents identify as LGBTQ. It is not known how many Mummers identify as LGBTQ, but in recent years, the parade has only seen one LGBTQ-specific Mummer group. The Miss Fancy Brigade, the all-LGBT drag mummers group that Morrison helped to form, was not part of this year’s parade, but Dignam said the group has been a crowd favorite since their first appearance in 2013.
The LGBT community isn’t the only underrepresented population when it comes to Mummery. Danielle Wellens, of Philadelphia, also watched this year’s parade for the first time and expressed surprise at the lack of people of color.
“The costumes are exciting to see, but I thought I would see more people of color in the parade,” she said.
The Mummers Parade has drawn criticism over the years for incorporating racism, sexism and homophobia in its acts, namely among the Comic divisions. Parade organizers implemented new rules for all Mummers that went into effect in 2017’s parade. They are no longer allowed to wear makeup that makes them look like another race, and no more than 25 percent of their makeup can be yellow, black or brown.
Although problematic antics generally have been toned down, certain groups have continued to cross the line in satire and skits.
This year was no different.
The Finnegan New Years Brigade featured a participant dressed as rapper Jay-Z while another impersonated Mayor Jim Kenney on a leash on all fours pretending to be a dog.
The skit was a dig at Kenney for advocating that the city should move the Labor Day concert festival Made in America off of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
He later restored the original location after criticism from Jay-Z, who owns Roc Nation, the company behind the festival and one of the kingmakers of the hip-hop community.
In a statement released Jan. 2, Kenney said “the Finnegan group submitted its concept in advance of the parade, representing to both the city and Mummers organization that the performer portraying Jay-Z would be an African-American male and would not be dressed in blackface. The Finnegan group says that it complied with its theme application.”
The statement continued: “The City condemns the use of blackface in any form and will continue to work with the Mummers to ensure future performances are nondiscriminatory.”
Famous Philadelphian Questlove, of the locally based hip-hop group The Roots, commented in an Instagram caption under a recording of the controversial skit, “Philly let’s act like it’s 2019 … we gotta do better than this.”
More than 170 people replied to his post on Jan. 1, with one writing, “If you’re black and from Philly and support the Mummers, you are either blind or don’t know the history.”
More than 10,000 Mummers marched in this year’s parade, held annually on New Year’s Day for the past 119 years. The 60-degree sunny day drew nearly 20,000 people to South Broad Street and the judging area to watch the extravagantly costumed marchers — most donning the signature golden Mummer boots — along the route that began at City Hall and ended at Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia. Mummers compete in one of five categories: fancy, comic, wench brigade, string band and fancy brigade, which is the only brigade that solely performs at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.