• Follow us

Movies

Why ‘The Queen’ Documentary Is an Essential Queer Time Capsule

With the spotlight on the Stonewall uprising’s 50th anniversary this month, several treasured landmark LGBTQ documentaries have been restored and are being re-released for a limited time in theaters, including Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning and the era-defining Before Stonewall. But among the gifts to be cherished from this renewed focus is Frank Simon’s 1968 film The Queen. It remains obscure to most, but now with a 4K restoration produced by Bret Wood of Kino Lorber — building on work done by UCLA Film & Television Archive, Outfest UCLA Legacy Project and the Harry Ransom Center — the film is being re-released on June 28th, so that it may be embraced by an entirely new generation.

Related Striking a 'Pose': A Brief History of Ball Culture Striking a 'Pose': A Brief History of Ball Culture Harvey Fierstein and Moisés Kaufman on the Eternal Message of 'Torch Song'

Chronicling the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest that took place at New York City’s Town Hall, The Queen begins with Jack Doroshow — otherwise known as Flawless Sabrina, Mother Flawless, or simply “the Queen” — as the brow-tweezing matron who shaves before putting on his makeup and tries to encourage his parents to attend the big event. Meanwhile, grainy, 16mm fly-on-the-wall footage captures all the awkward angles and intimate details (a close-up of a foot here, a bulge of fat plumped into a faux boob there) as contestants prepare to hit the stage. The doc made a big splash when it premiered at Cannes, the same year that student protests in France shut the fest down. Then on June 18, 1968 — nearly one year to the week before the Stonewall rebellion — The New York Times published a review of The Queen while it was playing at the Kips Bay Theater in Manhattan.

“The drag queens are, of course, perfectly aware that they are not women, and even their mannerisms — the flatted vowels, the relaxed wrist, the gait of the homosexual who wants it known — are not female imitations at all, but parodies,” the reviewer states, before further editorializing, “They may be absolutely miserable (like others) in their private lives, but in their costumed appearances they enrich the landscape enormously.”

In an age when RuPaul’s Drag Race is a mainstream hit and drag queens can launch major careers, it seems impossible to imagine the context in which The Queen hit theaters a few decades ago, when cross-dressing was a felony in most of America and people who operated in these fringes were considered “deviants.”

“You could be arrested, if a cop was in the mood, for just having eyeliner [on],” Harvey Fierstein recently told Rolling Stone when describing his years of performing in drag in the early Seventies. And Doroshow, who ran the national pageant circuit in the Sixties, had been arrested for that crime over a 100 times by his count.

“I spent a lot of my life being angry. I was furious about getting those felonies. I was hauled off to jail, given fines,” Doroshow told Out magazine in 2015. “More often than not [in my travels], I was driven to the county line and told never to come back. They blamed me for bringing ‘all those perverts’ to town.”

In addition to watching Sabrina act as a mentoring mother hen, the film follows queens from all corners of America, learning how to cluck and preen as they vie for the crown. We see quick cuts to Andy Warhol in the audience as a judge (you wonder if one of his Superstars might wander into a shot at any moment); authors George Plimpton and Terry Southern drop by for cameos. Then all hell breaks loose when the contestant — and future “House of LaBeija” founder —  Crystal LaBeija is announced as third runner up (fourth place) and leaves the stage in a huff.

Crystal LaBeija in a scene from Frank Simon’s ‘The Queen.’ Photo credit: Lewis Allen Collection/Harry Ransom Center/The University of Texas at Austin

Simon’s camera descends into the bowels of the theater and tracks down the angry contestant. “This is why all the true beauties didn’t come,” LaBeija says in protest. “They told me, Sabrina, that you had it fixed for [fellow contestant] Harlow. Everyone knew that you had it fixed for Harlow for weeks and weeks.”

It’s that pivotal scene that’s inspired many to latch on to The Queen as a cult favorite and caused it to creep into popular consciousness. Frank Ocean sampled LaBeija’s voice in “Ambience 001,” part of his 2016 album/film Endless: “Because you’re beautiful and you’re young; you deserve to have the best in life,” we hear her voice ring out. And during the “Snatch Game” episode of Season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, drag queen Aja defied expectations by wearing a luscious black wig, oversized hoop earrings and a white feather boa to transform into LaBeija.

But I keep finding myself drawn to the poignant scenes captured in the crummy Times Square hotel bedroom before the competition. Three of the semi-nude contestants sprawl out on two twin beds as they discuss boyfriends and sex and dodging the draft. We’re suddenly reminded of the Vietnam War and how these semi-anonymous individuals fit into this fulcrum of American history.

“Wouldn’t this be a helluva mess if the draft board were to call us down right now for a physical?” says a chubby contestant with a high-pitched Southern accent that sounds like he could be Truman Capote’s close cousin.

“This is what I’m wearing to the draft board,” the slender friend replies, twirling in a white nightgown with feather lapels.

“Why haven’t you been drafted? Did you tell them you were homosexual?”

“No, they told me!”

They then turn to talking about gender and whether they’d want to transition through medical means. We hear them fumble with language as they try to grasp at something complex that feels just out of reach.

“But really and truly, would you like to be a true girl? To have that sex change if you had the money or could get it for free?”

“Well, I have enough money to go through the sex change, and I live only 30 miles from John Hopkins, but it’s the last thing that I would want. I know that I’ve been a drag queen, have been a drag queen for a long time, been gay for a long time, but I certainly do not want to be a girl, even if I could have a baby.”

During this moment, scenes of other contestants rehearsing out of drag are spliced in, with a sly smirk from Harlow, the Edie Sedgwick doppelgänger that walk away with the crown.

Simon’s movie is short (just over an hour), but it’s extraordinary because it captures so much, doubling as a time capsule of a generation’s innocence and fashion-forward sophistication. You can tell why it functioned as a template for many future gender nonconforming people looking for some sort of pre-internet guide through the confusing maze of sexuality and gender.

And due to the racism endemic to the drag pageant scene, Crystal LaBeija eventually left the culture preserved in the doc behind and became a “Legendary Mother” in the ballroom scene; she died in 1982 from liver failure. Doroshow continued to persevere and mentor generations of future queens. (He died at age 78 in 2017.) After the film’s release, Rachel Harlow had gender confirmation surgery and returned to Philadelphia, where she still lives in seclusion.

“Without Jack Doroshow, our Flawless Sabrina, my friend and mentor, The Queen would not exist,” she tells Rolling Stone via email. “Because of his absolute dedication to the art of drag, he championed a whole generation of us who were, until that time, silenced by intolerance and shame, and delivered us from the darkness into the light.”

As young queer people continue to discover their identities and evolve new language, Harlow hopes that people continue to appreciate it for creating a framework for others. “I can’t help but feel that many of the trans and drag stories that are coming to light now, spring in some way from The Queen,” she explains. “Certainly my life would have been entirely different without it, and the audiences who reach out to me to this day [are] grateful to have felt seen and celebrated.”

In This Article: Documentary, LGBTQ, LGBTQ Pride

Want more Rolling Stone? Sign up for our newsletter.

Read More



Leave A Comment

More News

Rolling Stone Latest Movies

‘Midsommar’ Review: Pagan Horror Gets a New Classic 2019-07-02 11:18:06Filmmaker Ari Aster's follow-up to 'Hereditary' turns a break-up story into a funny, frightening 'Wicker Man' 2.0

Can a Beatles Fan Believe in ‘Yesterday’? 2019-07-01 11:36:54Our resident hardcore Beatleologist on why this fantasy about a Fab Four-less world should have fixed its holes

‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ Trailer Puts Clever Spin 2019-07-01 11:12:39Danny DeVito and Danny Glover transform into Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in sequel to 2017 reboot

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Review: The Webslinger Swings 2019-07-01 10:54:55Tom Holland saves this decent enough Spidey movie set in a post-'Endgame' MCU

Why ‘The Queen’ Documentary Is an Essential Queer 2019-06-28 12:37:48Intimate 1968 portrait of gender pioneers returns to screens for Pride month — and its rightful place in the LGBTQ pantheon

The Last Word: John Waters on Censorship, Smoking 2019-06-27 13:46:21With a new book called 'Mr. Know-It-All' out now, the People's Pervert goes deep on the things that make him tick

New Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey 2019-06-27 09:53:03Upcoming franchise reboot stars Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska

‘Maiden’ Review: An All-Female Crew’s Sail of the 2019-06-27 09:00:12Documentary on the 1989 yacht crew who beat the odds to win a major race and knocked the sexist world of sailing on its ass

Ian McKellen Keeps Dark Secrets From Helen Mirren 2019-06-26 14:38:48McKellan stars as a con man out for Mirren's money

Best Movies to See in July: ‘Once Upon 2019-06-26 10:06:37From Quentin Tarantino's epic valentine to Tinseltown to a feline Beyoncé and a new Webslinger adventure

Watch Bride Battle Husband’s Insane Family in New 2019-06-17 13:19:23Film stars Samara Weaving, Mark O'Brien, Adam Brody, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny

Franco Zeffirelli, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Director, Dead at 2019-06-15 12:01:11Italian filmmaker known for his Shakespeare adaptations, renowned opera productions

FilmBook

AGENTS OF SHIELD: Season 6, Episode 8: Collision 2019-07-02 11:30:51  Agents of Shield Collision Course (Part 1) Trailer and Episode 9-10 Synopses ABC‘s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 6, Episode 8: Collision

SUITS: Season 9 TV Show Trailer: The Final 2019-07-02 10:00:44  Suits Season 9 Trailer USA‘s Suits: Season 9 TV show trailer has been released and stars Patrick J. Adams, Gabriel Macht, Katherine Heigl

Disney Television Studios San Diego Comic-Con 2019 Panels: 2019-07-02 08:30:04  Disney Television Studios San Diego Comic-Con 2019 Panels A press release has been issued for Disney Television Studios’ San Diego Comic-

EUPHORIA: Season 1, Episode 4: Shook One Pt. 2019-07-02 07:00:19  Euphoria Shook One Pt. II Trailer HBO‘s Euphoria: Season 1, Episode 4: Shook One Pt. II TV show trailer has been released and stars Zenda

THE BOYS (2019) TV Show Featurette & TV 2019-07-01 18:13:49  The Boys TV Show Featurette and TV Spot A TV show featurette and a new TV show commercial for The Boys (2019) have been released Amazon Prime.

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019) Movie Trailer: The 2019-07-01 12:40:30  Jumanji: The Next Level Trailer Jake Kasdan‘s Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) movie trailer has been released by Sony Pictures and stars D

Box Office: June 28-30, 2019: TOY STORY 4, 2019-07-01 09:00:08  Box Office June 28-30, 2019 Toy Story 4 was the Number One film at the box office for the second weekend in a row with $57.9 Million for $236.9

THE GOOD LIAR (2019) Movie Trailer: Ian McKellen 2019-07-01 08:00:52  The Good Liar Trailer Bill Condon‘s The Good Liar (2019) movie trailer has been released and stars Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Russell To

Box Office: June 14-16, 2019: MEN IN BLACK 2019-06-16 20:25:11  Box Office June 14-16, 2019Men in Black International premiered in the Number One spot at the box office over the weekend with $28.5 Million in

ANNA (2019) International Movie Trailer 2: Sasha Luss 2019-06-16 19:25:44  Anna International Trailer 2 The second international movie trailer of Anna (2019) has been released by Summit Entertainment. The first movie t

EUPHORIA (2019) TV Show Trailer 3; Episode 1-6 2019-06-16 18:25:26  Euphoria Trailer 3 and Episode 1-6 Plot Synopses, Titles, and Air Dates The third TV show trailer for Euphoria (2019) and the official plot syn

Film Casting: ONE LONG NIGHT, EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT 2019-06-16 08:46:04  One Long Night, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Waldo, and more Film Casting NewsOne Long Night, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,

NYT > Movies

‘Midsommar’ Review: Building a Horror Møusetrap With Swedish 2019-07-02 18:38:35Ari Aster’s hyper-aware movie about bad relationships and worse vacations has more virtuosity than vision.

‘Yesterday’ Star Himesh Patel Was Delivering Papers Not 2019-07-02 14:32:10When he was a soap opera regular, his parents insisted that he have a paper route to keep him grounded. That lasted till he was 21.

In ‘Mikey and Nicky,’ Elaine May Nails a 2019-07-02 11:21:24Newly restored, May’s darkest comedy is one of the great underappreciated American movies of the 1970s.

Review: ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Is the Latest 2019-07-02 00:53:11Peter Parker deals with teenage angst and lingering Stark Industries H.R. issues while trying to enjoy a trip to Europe.

‘Toy Story 4’ Is Bigger Than the Beatles 2019-07-01 17:31:57After a solid second weekend, the movie’s global total has hit $496.5 million. “Yesterday” landed in third place.

Bob Dorian, Genial Guide to Old Films on 2019-07-01 16:49:21A movie buff since childhood, Mr. Dorian was an actor, a magician and a disc jockey before joining the channel as prime-time host in 1984.

Review: Hugh Jackman Isn’t Quite the Greatest Showman 2019-07-01 16:48:20His world tour “The Man. The Music. The Show.” stopped at Madison Square Garden. But it would have been better on Broadway.

Isabel Sarli, Popular Star of Racy Argentine Films, 2019-07-01 15:06:01Ms. Sarli reached international audiences in dozens of movies that were the bane of censors, starting with one in which she appeared fully nude.

The Long and Winding Road to ‘Yesterday,’ a 2019-07-01 14:52:10Want to make a movie about the enduring power of the Beatles? You’ll need a lot of their songs, and more than a little help from your friends.

‘A Bundle of Action’ and ‘Just the Right 2019-07-01 11:20:45Young moviegoers weigh in on the much-anticipated Pixar sequel.

‘Yesterday’ | Anatomy of a Scene 2019-07-01 10:53:07Danny Boyle narrates a sequence from his film.

Tom Hiddleston to Star in Broadway Revival of 2019-06-30 23:17:30Jamie Lloyd’s production of Harold Pinter’s romantic triangle is transferring this fall after a sold-out London run.

L.A. Times - Movie News

Harry Styles as Elvis Presley? He’s a top 2019-07-02 13:25:00After much conversation, Warner Bros. is taking action to cast its lead for Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Elvis Presley biopic. According to the Holly

Revisiting ‘Forrest Gump’ at 25 — what made 2019-07-02 10:00:00In 1994, moviegoers flocked to “The Flintstones” and “Maverick” in May, and “Speed” and “The Lion King&rdquo

Review: In the unsettling ‘Midsommar,’ the nightmare unfolds 2019-07-01 18:25:00The setting of “Midsommar,” a luxuriant deep-tissue freakout from writer-director Ari Aster, is a picturesque commune in Hälsingland,

CAA becomes third agency to take Writers Guild 2019-07-01 15:15:00CAA has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the Writers Guild of America, becoming the third Hollywood talent agency to take the union to court over th

Film academy invites more women than men to 2019-07-01 14:45:00As of Monday, there are a whole lot more people in Hollywood who’d like to thank the academy. In its latest step toward diversifying its histori

Taylor Swift rages on the news of Scooter 2019-06-30 17:20:00Taylor Swift took to Tumblr on Sunday to express her frustration over news that her master recordings had been acquired by music manager Scooter Braun

‘Toy Story’ remains on top, ‘Annabelle 3’ and 2019-06-30 13:50:00Toys continued to dominate the box office for a second consecutive weekend with "Toy Story 4" maintaining its position at the top of the charts and

Meet ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ 2019-06-29 10:00:00Like the pastors and storytellers in his life he credits with igniting his early artistic spark, Jonathan Majors is given to spinning bright bursts of

Writers Guild sends cease and desist letter to 2019-06-28 20:20:00After being slapped this week with lawsuits from two of Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies, the Writers Guild of America fired back on Friday,

Indie Focus: Climb on board with 'Maiden' 2019-06-28 17:00:00Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies. Anyone looking to celebrate the up

The captain of the Maiden talks about how 2019-06-28 16:10:00Thirty years ago, Tracy Edwards and her female crew made history when they entered the male-dominated world of the Whitbread Round the World yacht rac

New video: ‘Transit’ is another provocative thriller from 2019-06-28 08:00:00New on Blu-ray “Transit” (Music Box DVD, $29.95; Blu-ray, $34.95; also available on VOD) German director Christian Petzold has made some o

CinemaBlend Latest Content

Regal Cinemas Is Going The MoviePass Route 2019-07-03 19:25:11Another option for avid moviegoers is on the way.

Ruby Roundhouse Will Get Some Changes In Jumanji: 2019-07-03 18:45:02Alright then, Jumanji. Keep your secrets.

Kevin Feige Still Likes It When Marvel Gets 2019-07-03 18:01:20The Marvel Studios president enjoys surprising people and blowing away expectations.

Chris Evans Thinks The MCU Will Eventually Answer 2019-07-03 17:38:49More from Chris Evans this time on all that timey wimey stuff.

Zendaya, Zac Efron, And Other Movie Stars Who 2019-07-03 17:06:58Here's a bulk of Hollywood's elite movie stars who first captured audience's attention on the Disney Channel.

How James Franco Got Roped Into Johnny Depp 2019-07-03 16:00:41The star of The Deuce may find himself drawn in to the former couple's nasty and protracted legal battle.

Disney’s Live Action Little Mermaid Has Cast Its 2019-07-03 15:44:18This actress is going to be part of a new world.

That Time Spider-Man’s Flash Thompson Auditioned To Play 2019-07-03 15:37:49Somewhere in another Multiverse maybe this actually happened!

Disney Deletes Controversial Toy Story 2 Scene 2019-07-03 15:27:17This scene... didn't age well.

Walt Disney World Is Closing Several Epcot Locations 2019-07-03 14:28:28Get ready for a lot of changes coming to Epcot.

Rami Malek On Refusing To Play A Religious 2019-07-03 13:57:53Born of Egyptian parents, the Mr. Robot actor was worried about playing a villain at first.

Wait, Is Quentin Tarantino Done With Movies After 2019-07-03 13:51:16The director has a self-imposed cap of 10 films, but could he decide to call it a career early?


Disclaimer and Notice:WorldProNews.com is not responsible of these news or any information published on this website.