One of the telling lines of “The Queen” is when show runner Flawless Sabrina explains that the biggest task of organizing the Miss All American Camp Beauty Pageant is finding a hotel that can house all the contestants, and finding a hotel that’s “hip” enough to want to house them. In 1968, being out and yourself was about being as discreet as possible and operating behind closed doors. While “The Queen” is basically a documentary about the cut throat world of Drag pageants, as well as a sobering portrayal of how the LGBTQ community had to function behind closed doors for much of the twentieth century.
“The Queen” is set in 1967 where gay icon Flawless Sabrina organizes about the annual Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant. It’s a competition filled with drag queens, all of whom take the art very seriously. The film, filled with raw footage and candid looks in to the lives of these performers, takes us backstage with the contestants. An interesting dynamic forms as the drag queens are all hugs and kisses when they gather in their rooms. But as the hours wear on and they begin auditioning for the final ceremony, the tension heats up and they all begin to turn on one another. Frank Simon manages to capture some truly human moments within this competition and art form, as we watch the performers gathering their clothing, forming their wigs, and even building their personas.
Along the way, there’s a clear cut resentment toward a younger performer who has managed to capture the eyes of the judges, despite the fact he’s come almost wholly unprepared. Simon delivers some fascinating moments of vulnerability and sincerity among the performers, all of whom get to be themselves, and complain about being chastised for being themselves. During one discussion a drag performer explains that he was turned down from volunteering for the military due to his sexuality. Despite his insistence on serving his country, the government dismisses his appeal. It’s sad that most of the scenes are set in door and considerably sheltered, as most of the men only get to stay true to themselves in the safety of the hotel room.
Meanwhile, the rare shots of the performers walking around during the day in plain clothing draws obvious gazes and stares from the public. “The Queen” is a stark and still very relevant look at this culture, and how it rose from an art form once performed behind closed doors in the shadows, that is now generally accepted and widely celebrated. It’s a highly recommended and raw look at the fierceness of the drag competitions, and how the LGBTQ community has made so much progress since 1968 and yet still has so far to go.
Now opening with a brand new 4K Restoration from Kino Lorber (in cooperation with the Harry Ransom Center (University of Texas)), in New York at the IFC Center, and will premiere in various cities including Los Angeles, Austin, Denver, Nashville, and More Very soon.