Tinsley Mortimer was born with the makings of an “it girl.” She came from a wealthy family with a history of philanthropy, then married into an even wealthier family, giving her full heiress status. Once she quit her day job and teamed up with self-proclaimed “queenmaker” and society publicist R. Couri Hay, she was able to realize her full socialite potential, entering the ranks of the most photographed women in early-2000s New York City alongside Paris Hilton and Casey Johnson. And while Hay may deserve the credit for getting Mortimer’s foot in the door, the true queenmakers were the gossip blogs that kept her there, for better or worse.
Queenmaker: The Making of an It Girl explores the rise of the era’s socialites, with a focus on the blogs that seemed to make or break the women they covered. There was the original iteration of Gawker, which relished in tearing down the elite with snark, and Socialite Rank, which pitted women in the spotlight against each other. Suddenly, there was an onslaught of sites and social media pages dedicated to celebrities. Director Zackary Drucker (The Lady and the Dale) examines the way in which these blogs first thrust women, like Mortimer, into the spotlight only to exploit them for clicks.
The documentary starts out as an insightful look at how the internet age perpetuated the unrealistic beauty standards and misogyny that dominated the early aughts, holding bloggers for Gawker and Socialite rank, the two largest sites of their ilk, accountable for the hateful narratives they pushed. It’s a reckoning that feels necessary up to a point — when the gears change to check in with the creator of the much more kind-hearted Park Avenue Peerage, the documentary veers into the territory of the very blogs Drucker is attempting to criticize.
When Park Avenue Peerage debuted online in 2007, its mission was to be the antithesis of Socialite Rank, which, as its name implies, released weekly rankings of who was on top and who wasn’t a part of the “it girl” scene. Park Avenue Peerage, on the other hand, was a celebration of these women, in particular Mortimer; the person behind the blog wrote about their comings, goings, and impeccable fashions with a poetic reverence. Everyone assumed that person to be someone who was in the scene, rubbing elbows with the elite, when really it was a University of Illinois college student living in Champaign, Illinois, who relied on Google searches and publicly available party photos to build posts.
Morgan Olivia Rose, a transwoman who created the blog when she was 18 and pre-transition, soon becomes the documentary’s focus, with more salacious details of her life coming to the forefront in ways that seem unnecessary. The documentary consistently uses Rose’s previous name and pronouns, and it builds up to showing Rose’s current gender, appearance, and name as a big, climactic reveal. Because Drucker herself is a transwoman, it would be fair to assume that she talked this over with Rose and delicately approached the best way to tell her story of transitioning. But no matter how much care may have been taken in the film itself, it still led to pre-air coverage in Page Six that spun her transition into something more sensational, with the headline “James Kurisunkal of blog ‘Park Avenue Peerage’ living as socialite-esque lady.”
In 2007 it was revealed that Rose was the one behind the blog — soon after, she was offered an internship at New York magazine and started actually running in the circles of the people she was covering. Or did she? Interviews with Rose, Mortimer, and Rose’s former friends set up the narrative that Rose was delusional, believing that she was close friends with Mortimer when that may not have been the case. Rose shares details of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from her parents while getting caught up in drug use and one-sided relationships.
In a particularly heartbreaking moment, the cameras keep rolling after a sit-down interview with Rose as she talks to Drucker just on the edge of the frame, getting emotional that she may have shared more than she initially thought she would about those darker days. Drucker is kind and encouraging at the moment, but it still leaves a bad taste and a question of whether or not these details were needed to get Drucker’s point across.
Drucker reconnects Mortimer and Rose, who are set to reunite at a charity event in Chicago by the end of the film. There’s a makeover sequence, shots of Rose walking through the city’s downtown, every indication that this will end triumphantly with Rose as the belle of the ball. But in the final moments, Rose bails on the event, ultimately deciding that she doesn’t actually want to be part of this world and that she has nothing in common with a socialite — why would she try so hard to be accepted in a world that routinely made her feel so othered?
In making that point, Queenmaker: The Making of an It Girl almost succeeds. There can’t be “it girls” without “not-it girls,” and that distinction has dangerous ripple effects on all of society. But the very anonymity of these “not-it girls” affords them safety. They may feel othered, but most of them are not thrust into the spotlight for others to observe just how disconnected they are from the women they admire. Rose lost that when she was first outed as the founder of Park Avenue Peerage, but in the time since, seems to have created a new identity and life for herself. This documentary clumsily attempts to show her transformation from observer to participant, but in the end it seems to only draw attention to a life that Rose would prefer to keep out of the headlines.
Queenmaker: The Making of an It Girl is streaming on Hulu.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.
TOPICS: Queenmaker: The Making of an It Girl, Hulu, Morgan Olivia Rose, Tinsley Mortimer, Zackary Drucker