At long last, The Queens is ready for its close-up — and it’s streaming NOW, right here on the home page of our website! Click here to rent the film, buy it, or buy with bonus features! And watch the official trailer for The Queens here!
Part Paris is Burning and Pose, part RuPaul’s Drag Race and part Miss America, The Queens explores the transgender subculture of competitive female impersonation. Along the way, this feature-length documentary delves into the fascinating history of Chicago’s iconic female illusion show lounge, The Baton (now in its 50th year), and the club’s legendary offspring, the Miss Continental beauty pageant (an annual competition that has drawn transgender contestants from around the globe since 1980). The entertainers immersed in this glamorous, close-knit community share the highs and lows of their lives as they compete for the coveted crown.
The director of The Queens, Mark Saxenmeyer, tells all about the film’s nine-year journey to worldwide release here.
“The Queens serves as a cultural touchstone that is educational, emotional, and deeply entertaining…The documentary dives deep into what these women experience on and offstage, and refuses to see them as a monolith.” –Cody Corrall/Chicago Reader
“Put The Queens up there with Paris is Burning and Pose.” –OUT Magazine
“Showcasing the vital role of pageants in the lives of some transgender, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary people…The documentary shows the power of the pageant as well as the cutthroat competition behind the scenes.” –Daniel Reynolds/The Advocate
“All that glitters isn’t GLAAD. The Queens tackles some tough subject matters, going beyond the velvet ropes to investigate what binds us together as a community…Director Mark Saxenmeyer delves thoughtfully and thoroughly into the theme of alienation.” –Kevin Perry/Rage Magazine (Southern California)
““If you liked The Queen, you’ll love The Queens! A deep dive into a hugely important pageant…Captures a lot of soon-to-be famous queens on their way up.” –Matthew Rettenmund/Boy Culture
“There’s glitz, glamour, and lots of drama thrown in for the battle of the crown. Amazing (and) very ambitious. I absolutely loved The Queens.” —Chiffon Dior/WERRRK.com
“The Queens is a joy ride, presented with gritty vibrancy, showbiz pizzazz, and erotic splendor…this documentary entertains, informs, and ignites the imagination. The lines between male and female are sculpted into new forms…we witness artists in process with purpose. They glory in the unfolding transformation, sometimes at great sacrifice and expense.” —John Townsend/Lavender Magazine (Minneapolis)
“I was mesmerized by The Queens. I gained so much insight into the lives of these performers as they shared their deeply person and sometimes not-so-flattering stories.” —Ellen Miller/Co-Host of Out Chicago on WCPT 820- AM
“A solid story in terms of trans hardships and acceptance.”—Alex Nagy/Philadelphia Weekly
“There are clips from almost 40 years of pageants and interviews with contestants…a lot of good material.”–-Steve Warren/Georgia Voice
“It’s a powerful story of a fascinating slice of queer history.”–-Roger Walker-Dack/QueerGuru
“A fascinating, very complex subject…a really important opportunity for people in this subculture to present themselves to the world.” –Conrad Browne/Joy 94.9 (Melbourne, Australia)
“Some people see these performers all dressed up and might dismiss them as frivolous but The Queens also brings fabulous historical content to subjects like violence against trans women, addiction, sex work and HIV/AIDS.” –Scott Duff/Co-Host of Out Chicago on WCPT 820 AM
The Queens has screened at film festivals in New York City (Festival of Cinema NYC –where it was nominated for Best Documentary); Melbourne, Australia (Melbourne Documentary Film Festival); Belgrade, Serbia (Merlinka International Queer Film Fest, where it was also nominated for Best Documentary); Chicago (Reeling, where it was named “Documentary Centerpiece”); Atlanta (Out on Film); Palm Springs (Cinema Diverse); Sheffield, England (Transforming Cinema); Ramsgate, England (Ramsgate International TV and Film Festival); Philadelphia (qFLIX); New Mexico (BorderScene); and Valencia, Spain (South Europe International Film Festival, where it was nominated for Best Feature Documentary Director, Best Feature Documentary Cinematography and Best Feature Documentary). The Queens has also been shown in theaters and at events in Minneapolis, St. Louis, Portland, Seattle, Tulsa, Lubbock and Iowa City.
As society grapples with issues of transgender acceptance and understanding, The Queens takes viewers out of the politics and onto the stage with an exclusive look inside the first beauty pageant to ever allow transgender female impersonators to participate. Born out of discrimination, the Miss Continental Pageant is now one of the longest running and most prestigious contests of its kind in the United States, attracting competitors from around the globe.
The Queens humanizes and demystifies this group of often-misunderstood individuals; they’re fiercely determined, strikingly imaginative and possess jaw-dropping talent. The Queens will have you cheering for the creative spirit that lives within us all!
Using the framework of the 40-year-old Miss Continental pageant as its backdrop, The Queens explores this complex and relatively unknown subculture of transgender life. The documentary attempts to help viewers understand why these pageant competitors are so wildly driven and dedicated in their quest for the crown — a title most people have never even heard of, despite Miss Continental’s longevity and prestige within the female impersonation world.
We follow the journeys of several contestants as they diligently plan, prepare and plot their paths to victory. Along the way, we meet several former titleholders, as well as some who have repeatedly competed in the pageant but never left victorious (and are perhaps a bit bitter).
But the documentary focuses on more than just the competition. We delve into the whys and hows and dangers of the physical alterations many competitors have made to their outer bodies (silicone injections, breast implants, facial reconstruction, etc.), their inner bodies (hormone therapies), and their decisions to refrain from following through with gender confirmation surgery. Some do so in order to conform with Miss Continental’s strict (and some say archaic) rules defining what constitutes a female impersonator — rules that determine who is, and isn’t, eligible to compete and perform.
We also talk with female impersonators who live their lives as men outside the pageant and performance world, and the occasional tensions between them and those who’ve been surgically enhanced.
We examine the difficulty many transgender female impersonators have finding true and lasting romantic relationships. We address the rejection many have experienced from family, as well as society’s changing opinions about the acceptance of transgender individuals in general today.
Because Miss Continental is so closely linked to Chicago’s legendary female impersonation nightclub, The Baton, (Jim Flint created and owns them both), we take a side trip deep inside this iconic, 50-year-old show lounge. We dig into its storied history, and meet the permanent cast, many of whom are former Miss Continental title-holders themselves. We learn why, for many, The Baton is the holy grail of female impersonation, and why many new Continental pageant winners hope their victories will lead to permanent employment at The Baton as well.
We reveal the shadier and sadder parts of The Baton’s past—mob and police pay-offs to stay open, drugs, prostitution, AIDS, crime, tragic accidents, and even murder. Several former Baton performers (and Miss Continentals) have met horrible, haunting deaths.
Returning to Continental, we get to the bottom of why winning this crown means so much to those in pursuit of the title, why they see it as a stepping stone to greater fame, fortune and success, and — yes — how it’s also a cut-throat competition where occasional acts of sabotage have been known to take place.
You’ll be awestruck by the amount of time and money spent (on makeup, costumes, wigs, backup dancers and more) to win this crown. The contestants shimmer and seduce, titillate and twirl. The glitz, the glamour, the talent and the beauty on display here rival the Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants (and some say put them to shame)!
With thousands in the audience cheering, there are tears of joy for those who perform well under the Miss Continental stage lights; when the show ends, there are tears of heartbreak in the shadows for those who find victory to be elusive.
To some outsiders, and the uninformed, the dolled-up, lip-synched routines at both Miss Continental and The Baton might seem frivolous, perhaps even pointless, after a few viewings. But The Queens will show you why creating this illusion and this mystique are a way of life for these performers, as well as thousands of others just like them (and their devoted fans) across the United States and the world.
Year after year, decade after decade, the show simply must go on.
(Left) At the Chicago premiere party and screening of The Queens (held at the Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club on January 25, 2018), Sunny Dee-Lite performs for the crowd. Sunny is profiled in the film. (Right) Reporters Inc. advisory committee member Nancy Pender, president Mark Saxenmeyer and secretary Benee Smith celebrate at the event.
(Left) Also at The Queens Chicago premiere party, lead cinematographers Larry Collins and Chris Davis watch the film for the first time. (Right) Naysha Lopez (also profiled in the film) attends the Chicago event with Daniel Fitzgerald.
(Left) Bill Henkin attends the Chicago premiere party with Kelly Lauren, Miss Continental 1988. (Right) Tiffany T. Hunter (also profiled in The Queens) answers audience questions following the Minneapolis screening (held at Honey at Ginger Hop on February 8, 2018).
(Left) Nikki Vixxen, Rick Olson and Bryan Vasquez attend the Minneapolis premiere (Nikki and Bryan appear in the film). (Right) Calley Bliss performs her original composition “All Mine” at the Minneapolis event. The song is featured in The Queens.
(Left) Country Yasmineh, along with Rob Genadek, performs her song “Pretty Kitty” at the Minneapolis event. (Right) Leora Levitt and Marvel Levitt accompany Gloria Iacono on her song “Better” at the Minneapolis premiere party. Both original songs are featured in The Queens.