RuPaul himself has made one thing very clear since the launch of RuPaul’s Drag Race ;it is absolutely crucial for the children to know their herstory. Before Paris Is Burning defined the ballroom scene (which begat Pose) and before Lady Bunny launched the original Wigstock in the early nineties in New York City, there was the documentary known as The Queen.
The Queen is a dynamically vintage documentary which chronicles the five days that lead up to the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest (a drag pageant that was organized by 28-year-old queer rights activist and future icon Flawless Sabrina). Directed by Frank Simon and funded by pageant judge (and legendary artist) Andy Warhol, The Queen gives us a peek behind the curtain of an era of both New York City and drag that is sometimes forgotten.
As the final scene of the film — and of that segment of Crystal’s drag career — she lets loose a blistering read, first to the camera, and then to Miss Flawless Sabrina herself. It’s a sight to behold. pic.twitter.com/NsgwIx1FWO
— Netflix Film (@NetflixFilm) January 23, 2020
The film offers film both drag historians and documentary fans alike a look at how drag pageants were orchestrated and ran in a time when drag was not nearly as accepted as it is today. The film is a historical touchstone, showing men in a pre-AIDS New York City discussing everything from the cocoon-like small towns that they have emerged from, to the draft, to the community’s issues as a whole with drag.
One queen took the moment that the camera was turned on her and has turned it into a cultural moment for our community. Drag legend Crystal LaBeija, in the last frames of the film, delivers the read of the century to Flawless Sabrina, where she pointedly delivers a message on racism in the pageant community and how queens of color have been consistently kept away from the winning pageants exactly like this one. The dramatic exit that LaBeija made from the pageant (as depicted in The Queen) eventually led to her crafting what essentially became the New York ballroom scene, paving the way for so much of the cultural lexicon that the LGBT community revels in today. Drag Race, Pose, and RuPaul himself consistently pay homage to the ball scene, truly showcasing the House that LaBeija built. One queen that is keenly aware of Crystal LaBeija’s influence on both her career and drag artistry as a whole is Aja, who’s Snatch Game performance as Crystal LaBeija during RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 was opulent perfection!
“The Queen” is available for streaming now on Netflix