Someone once told a novice burlesque performer that “funk music isn’t really classic burlesque music.” A new Seattle documentary, starring the same performer who ignored that critique and created a popular, all-people of color, funk-centric burlesque festival, shows that isn’t the case.

“What the Funk?!,” opening the 27th Seattle Queer Film Festival at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian, documents the inaugural local burlesque festival of the same name and how it seeks to make the burlesque scene into something more inclusive and accessible for performers and audience members alike.

Mx. Pucks A’Plenty — the film’s principal and the founder of the What the Funk?! burlesque festival — took a bit of a winding path from where they started to where they are now.

“So I had been thinking about trying burlesque since I had my son, and just kind of chickened out …. There wasn’t a lot of Black folks. And there definitely wasn’t a lot of folks that were fat, which is something that I have, too, so it was like, ‘Oh, this is something that I enjoy watching and looking at, but I don’t think it’s actually acceptable for me as a person.’ ”

But in fall 2017, after attending the Sunday Night Shuga Shack, a monthly burlesque revue at Seattle’s Theatre Off Jackson produced by Goddess Briq House and Sin de la Rosa featuring all people of color, Pucks’ perspective shifted. 

“It was the first time that I saw a Black femme [performing burlesque]. … It was the first time I saw some plus-sized bodies doing burlesque and it was definitely the first time I saw an all-people of color cast.”

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In 2018, Pucks applied to perform in a burlesque that focused on classic acts. “So I submitted a couple of ideas, and they were funk-based acts … and the producer of the show told me that’s not exactly what they’re looking for, that funk music isn’t classic burlesque. And that was kind of upsetting to me, because it felt very limiting.”

Cut to 2019: Pucks has joined forces with producer Rebecca Mm Davis, and What the Funk?!, a multinight, all-people of color, Pacific Northwest burlesque festival, is born — and so was Pucks’ desire to document the festival for posterity. 

“Part of my motivation for documenting this was, you know, the only person that’s going to be the best at telling your history is going to be you,” Pucks said. “When you look at burlesque history, there’s not a lot of Black and brown burlesque history that survived, or was even recorded in comparison to our white counterparts.”

A few conversations later, and with only weeks until the festival’s opening night, Pucks was introduced to filmmaker Adriana Guiman, who came onboard in an effort to better understand the Seattle arts scene and to experience an unfamiliar culture.

“I grew up in a small city [in Eastern Europe] where sex trafficking and misogyny was there happening. Like, the body of a woman was something that needed to be controlled, that needed to be told what to do, how to perform, what to say, when to shut up … these types of things,” Guiman said.

Seeing Seattle’s burlesque scene and how performers moved away “from this all-male audience, that they’re only for their sexual desire” and instead conveying a “political message through their body and through their performances, I think that was for me the main drive to be involved in this project and to do everything with minimal funding,” she said.

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Funding has been a longstanding issue for the burlesque festival, which also seeped into the production of the documentary, which Guiman said was paid for by Pucks’ production company and herself.

“I think Black folks joke about this a lot, but it’s not really a joke: It really is, like, we [do] the most with the very least, all of the time,” Pucks added. “And it is always a photo finish, like it is a photo finish every year, we’re going to have the bare minimum to make the thing happen.”

But it does happen. Whereas most of the funding for the festival’s first year came directly from Seattle’s burlesque community — “which is really unfortunate, because we joke that we’ve been sharing the same $1,000 for the past decade,” Pucks lamented — more recent festivals have been supported in larger part by grants, including from Seattle nonprofits Group Health Foundation and Social Justice Fund NW, and the Washington State Arts Commission.

“I don’t think that we can do any of the healing that we need to do as people without community, and burlesque has such a rich community that allows people the opportunity to feel like they’ve been seen and heard in a way that is really different,” Pucks said. “And ‘What the Funk?!’ is a testament to that Black and brown joy is infectious, even if you’re not a Black [or] brown person. And the reason how I know that is that you can’t listen to music and not be happy. It makes you want to move. It changes you at your DNA level. It makes you happy. And I just think that’s really brilliant.”

Seattle Queer Film Festival

Oct. 13-23; venues include SIFF Cinema Egyptian, Northwest Film Forum, Broadway Performance Hall and more. Hybrid passes: $200-$295; virtual-only passes: $150/individual, $199/household; single tickets: $13-$30; single gala tickets: $25-$100. threedollarbillcinema.org/sqff.