Mike Skiff’s documentary focuses on the participants in the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest, held annually in Chicago. The IML is a macho riff on the traditional beauty pageant contest, except that the contestants appear to be judged more on their personalities and commitment to a leather fetish lifestyle instead of physical beauty.
The film takes great pains in stressing the inclusiveness of the IML contest – the leather community, it seems, had its own history on unenlightened racial segregation – and one of the contestants, Mr. Leather Ottawa, calls himself a role model for this demographic because of his use of a wheelchair. There is also a participant who openly identifies himself as heterosexual, and various leather-clad women (both lesbian and straight) show up to watch the proceedings with joy.
The IML event also features an exhibit hall where men wearing mere wisps of leather covering voluntarily act like dogs for their approving masters or allow themselves to be imprisoned in sado-masochist contraptions.
“Kink Crusaders” will baffle anyone who is not part of the leather scene – despite all of the posing and vague talk of leather-based empowerment, the film ultimately comes across as a collection of fairly quotidian men who have nothing in common except for their taste in clothing and kinky sex. By the end of the film, one can easily come away without any insight, let alone appreciation, of what appeared on screen.