Above: “The Queens” trailer. View 5 additional clips from “The Queens” here.
The Queens | Documentary Film
Produced, Directed, Written and Edited by Mark Saxenmeyer
Available for streaming rentals and purchases at www.thereporters.org
Part “Pose” and “Paris is Burning,” part “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and part Miss America, “The Queens” explores the fascinating transgender subculture of competitive female impersonation.
Contact Andy Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org
07.27.20: “The Queens” Documentary Celebrates the Trans Women of the Miss Continental Pageant
Film Festival Acceptances/Screenings & Awards
RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants appearing in “The Queens”
Quotes from “The Queens”
Part documentary classic Paris is Burning, part current FX hit drama Pose, part reality show phenom RuPaul’s Drag Race, and part traditional beauty pageant like Miss America, The Queens follows beauty queen hopefuls Tiffany, Gabby, Sunny and Naysha as they pursue their dreams of becoming the next Miss Continental. It’s considered to be the most prestigious (and sometimes most cut-throat) international pageant of its kind. The Queenstakes viewers inside this little-known subculture of glamour and illusion that attracts thousands of competitors worldwide. Misunderstood or dismissed by some in mainstream society, the contestants are vying for the crown, but also for acceptance, validation and respect.
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 premier contests of its kind in the United States, attracting competitors from around the globe.
Using the framework of this 40-year-old spectacle 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 long determined who is, and isn’t, eligible to compete and perform.
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.
With thousands in the audience cheering, there are tears of joy for those who thrive under the Miss Continental stage lights; when the show ends, there are tears of heartbreak in the shadows, for those who find victory elusive.
To some outsiders, and the uninformed, the dolled-up, lip-synched routines and over-the-top fashion at Miss Continental might seem frivolous, perhaps even pointless. But The Queens will show you why creating this illusion and this mystique is 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.
The Reporters Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit journalistic production house. We’re dedicated to promoting social awareness, encouraging social change and championing social justice through powerful multimedia storytelling. www.thereporters.org
For more about any of the performers featured in the film, search their name on the fab and comprehensive resource website, Our Community Roots (Shining a Light on Amazing Entertainers Since 2003).
When I first moved to Chicago, a co-worker suggested we head over to a legendary female impersonation club called The Baton Show Lounge. I remember responding with something along the lines of “I’m not really into drag.” This new friend went on to explain that The Baton performers were transgender women who live their lives as women off stage as well. I was intrigued, and then I was immediately mesmerized once I watched an entire show at the club. There was an elegance and a mystique about the performers at The Baton that I had never seen anywhere else and, to this today, have still never seen anywhere else.
I later learned that many of these performers were former beauty pageant contestants, in a decades-old international contest known as Miss Continental, created specifically for transgender women.
I spent 18 years in Chicago and, despite the popularity and prestige of both The Baton and Miss Continental, this subculture of transgender performers never seemed to attract the attention of mainstream media. These entertainers were too edgy in their heyday and now, in a rapidly evolving period of transgender acceptance and understanding, some now deem this trans world of performance and pageantry to be regressive or archaic.
The Queens takes viewers backstage and behind the scenes to showcase these remarkable entertainers, illusionists and artists. Through interviews and archival footage, it also aims to highlight their personal passions, frailties, complexities and triumphs. They’ve forged a safe haven and created a family of sorts for themselves in this performance realm, in a world that has often scorned and rejected them.
By no means do the queens in The Queens speak for all transgender individuals, but this film gives a voice and a platform to this small sliver of trans folks who too often go unappreciated and unnoticed. Whether they’ll admit it or not, they long for the spotlight to burn just a little bit more brightly upon their specialized skills, innate talents, and undeniable beauty—both inside and out.
When we “workshopped” the first edit of The Queens with a group of primarily LGBT filmmakers in March 2017, we were surprised by some of the reactions the film received from transgender activists. Despite the longevity and prestige of Miss Continental there are some who think this pageant world is rather regressive and even offensive (just as some straight, cisgender people think the same thing about Miss America, etc.). Because transgender awareness, understanding and acceptance have come a long way since we started work on this film in 2011, there are some trans activists who believe that The Baton and Miss Continental rules defining what being female is (or isn’t) are archaic and problematic, and that too many of these performers base their self-esteem or self-worth on the need to effectively convince mainstream America that they’re beautiful illusions of stereotypical female beauty.
We listened to the feedback and made some adjustments but in the end we still chose to make a film that celebrates this pageant community as it is, as opposed to one that criticizes and condemns it. With that said, The Queens does indeed delve into the darker side of The Baton and Miss Continental’s history. As Mimi Marks (Miss Continental 1993 and a performer at The Baton for close to 25 years) says in the film, “I tell my family about how many people I know, how many people in this community, have died or been killed, and they just can’t believe it.”
Part of the mission of The Reporters Inc. is to bring attention to subject matter that is misrepresented, underrepresented, ignored or avoided by other media. We advocate for social awareness, encourage social change and champion social justice. Exploring this fascinating subculture of transgender life fits our mission perfectly. Chronicling this world in a documentary was an honor and a privilege.
Mark Saxenmeyer is the executive director of The Reporters Inc., a journalistic 501(c)(3) organization specializing in online journalism and documentaries. He’s also the director of The Queens, the nonprofit’s new documentary about the transgender subculture of competitive female impersonation. In addition, Mark runs the for-profit SaxInTheCity Productions, a video production company that helps corporations and other organizations create visual stories that convey their vision in an authentically journalistic fashion.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Bachelor of Arts in Journalism), Mark reported and produced for ABC, FOX and CBS affiliates in Madison, Hartford, Sacramento, Minneapolis and Chicago for more than two decades (between 1987 and 2013).
Mark’s broadcast reports and documentary projects have been honored with numerous national awards, including an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and an Edward R. Murrow from the Radio Television Digital News Association. He’s also won national prizes from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the National Association of Black Journalists, the American Women in Radio and Television, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, among others. (Additionally, his work has garnered 32 regional Emmy awards, 17 regional Associated Press awards, and 17 regional Society of Professional Journalists awards.)
Mark’s documentary credits include The Rites of Passage (1993), The Experiment in Black and White (2002), Experiment: Gay and Straight (2004), and The Queens(2019). Mark served as writer, director, and executive producer on all of these projects. He also edited The Queens. The Reporters Inc. is currently in production on two additional documentaries, Guilty Until Proven Innocent (about wrongful convictions and criminal justice reform), and Reaching for the Rainbow (about race relations in South Africa post-apartheid). Details can be found here: http://www.thereporters.org/our-projects/
Mark is the recipient of the Leadership in Journalism Education award from Loyola University Chicago, he was presented the Young Alumni Award for Outstanding Achievement and Distinguished Service from UW-Madison, and he was an inaugural inductee into his high school’s (Thomas Jefferson in Bloomington, MN) Hall of Fame.
Mark has been with his partner Adam Gower since 2005. They currently reside in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield with their handsome and brilliant Havanese pup, Desi.
To speak to Mark about “The Queens, please contact Andy Reynolds at email@example.com
Film Festival Acceptances/Screenings & Awards
- December 2019 – Merlinka Film Festival Belgrade, Serbia
- Nominated for Best Documentary
- September 2019 – Borderscene Film Festival Las Cruces, New Mexico
- August 2019 – Festival of Cinema NYC New York, New York
- Nominated for Best Documentary
- Selected as one of Queens Ledger’s “Top 10 Picks”
- July 2019 – Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, Melbourne Australia
- Selected as one of “Top 5 Films to Watch” by Milk Bar Mag
- Selected as one of the festival’s “Top Picks” by Film Blerg
- Selected as one of “12 Must See Films” by Weekend Notes
- June 2019 – Ramsgate International Film & TV Festival Ramsgate, England
- May 2019 – South Europe International Film Festival Valencia, Spain
- Nominated for Best Documentary Feature
- Nominated for Best Documentary Director
- Nominated for Best Documentary Cinematography
- March 2019 – qFLIX Film Festival Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- November 2018 – Transforming Cinema Film Festival Sheffield, England
- October 2018 – Out on Film Festival Atlanta, Georgia
- September 2018 – Cinema Diverse Film Festival Palm Springs, California
- September 2018 – Reeling International Film Festival Chicago, Illinois
- Named as Festival’s “Documentary Centerpiece”
“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 personal 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 context to subjects like violence against trans women, addiction, sex work and HIV/AIDS.” –Scott Duff/Co-Host of “Out Chicago” on WCPT 820 AM
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestants appearing in “The Queens”
Naysha Lopez (Season 8 of Drag Race, placed 9th)
Manila Luzon has a blink and you’ll miss her cameo. She appeared in Drag Race Season 2 and was runner-up and in Season 1 of All-Stars, placing 7th, and in Season 4 of All Stars, placing 6th.
Jasmine Masters. She appeared in season 7 of Drag Race, placing 12th, and in Season 4 of Drag Race All-Stars, placing 10th. Also featured in the “Bonus Features” backstage interviews video.
Cameos from archival Miss Continental footage
Nina Flowers, Season 1 of Drag Race, Season 1 of All Stars
Roxxxy Andrews, Season 5 of Drag Race, Season 2 of All Stars
Alyssa Edwards, Season 5 of Drag Race, Season 2 of All Stars
Candis Cayne, guest choreographer on Drag Race (several seasons)
Ginger Minj, Season 7 of Drag Race, Season 2 of All Stars
Brooke Lynn Hytes, Season 11 of Drag Race
Dominique Jackson, who portrays “Elektra Abundance” on the FX series “Pose” appears in archival footage in “The Queens” when she competed in Miss Continental under the name Tyra Allure.
Quotes from “The Queens”
We’re all entertaining, we’re all performing, we’re all kind of escaping through it. –Sasha Colby, Baton Show Lounge cast member
Everyone is entitled to find their dream. – Alexis Gabrielle Sherrington, Miss Continental contestant
When I first like, became aware of these pageants, I was thinking you know, like wow, oh my god, I want to be one, I want to be one of those girls, you know. – Tiffany T. Hunter, Miss Continental contestant
It’s like winning an Oscar for an actress. It’s the best honor and the most prestigious award that you can win. – Tiffany T. Hunter, Miss Continental contestant
This isn’t just a, ‘I’m going to compete for this pageant’ and then that’s it. This is, you know, the rest of my life. – Tiffany T. Hunter, Miss Continental contestant
When I’m doing a show with someone who is transgender, it makes me have to work that much harder. – Debbie Fox, Drag Queen
I guess from the first Continental video I saw, in like 1996, it was like a movie to me. I mean, those girls couldn’t possibly exist. I really couldn’t believe how beautiful, how well composed, and it was like a Las Vegas showgirl but they were transgender or they were female illusionists and I’d just never seen anything like that. I’d never seen that level, that height of professionalism. And so, the intrigue was there instantly. And I mean I would watch that tape every day. I’d watch it over and over and over again and I was like, oh my god. I thought I’d never be that good. I thought I’d never be able to be one of those beauties of Continental. – Sunny Dee-Lite, Miss Continental contestant
He (Jim Flint) took a group of people that nobody really cared about and he gave us a reason to go on and make ourselves better people. – Jodie Santana, Former Miss Continental contestant
I feel like, and really I’ve kinda felt like this all along, that I was supposed to be a girl exactly like how I am. I don’t necessarily think that I was supposed to go have a sex change and do all of that stuff. I’ve had many opportunities to do that and I just never did for some reason and there is a reason why I didn’t, you know what I mean? I don’t know if I even know the answer to that but it’s what makes me feel ok it’s what makes me feel comfortable. … In your eyes, I might be halfway in between this and that but in my eyes, I might be right where I’m supposed to be. – Mimi Marks, Miss Continental 1993, Baton Show Lounge cast member
I can go anywhere in the country and they know who I am, ‘cuz of Miss Continental. – Ginger Grant, Miss Continental Plus 1991, Baton Show Lounge cast member
And then I started going to the Baton. They were the most beautiful, classy women I’d ever seen in my life. So glamorous, and I was so mesmerized, just fascinated by it. – Sheri Payne, 4-time Miss Continental Contestant, Baton Show Lounge cast member
The clothing, the productions. The intrigue, the beauty, the talent, it’s a rare form of entertainment. – Ginger Grant, Miss Continental Plus 1991, Baton cast member
That’s what keeps me motivated, seeing the eyes of the audience, when they light up, when I perform. There’s nothing like it. They forget about their problems and I forget about mine. – Sheri Payne, Baton Show Lounge cast member
I go to compete in this pageant thinking I am my biggest competitor. I know what I did the last time when I competed and I need to be bigger and better than that. Period. Point blank, that’s the fact of the matter. Oh god. – Naysha Lopez, Miss Continental contestant
It’s not a Miss USA and it’s not a Miss Universe. I think it blows those pageants out of the water, actually (laughing). – – Naysha Lopez, Miss Continental contestant
It’s about giving these people a chance to achieve and showing people the talent and the entertainment value we have in our community. – Jim Flint, Miss Continental Pageant Owner
(Laughing) We are the most beautiful creatures that God has created. And the doctors too! (Laughing) – Karen Covergirl, Miss Continental contestant
It breaks my heart that in this whole community of people, how many that I know that have died and, like, been killed or any of that. When I talk about that with my family, they can’t believe it. They’re like, “What? Are you serious?” And I think that that’s sad. – Mimi Marks, Miss Continental 1993, Baton Show Lounge cast member
You have to remember that no matter how they describe their gender identity, the illusion you bring to us is the most feminine woman you can. – Skip Mackall, Miss Continental head judge
When you come out for every category. And in the seconds when you’re on stage you have to capture the audience and make them go “WOW!” and make them jump out of their chair because that dress was so amazing. That swimsuit fit everything on your body. Your talent captured your essence and you gave them who you were. – Sunny Dee-Lite, Miss Continental contestant
I have invested about $65,000 on Miss Continental. I’m sure it’s going to be a hefty little price tag at the end. But once I’m passionate about it I couldn’t have possibly taken the deposit I was going to put into a condominium I was going to buy. – Sunny Dee-Lite, Miss Continental contestant
I do it for love because I love what I do, and what I do is entertain all of you. That’s what I love to do. – Justice Devine, Miss Continental contestant
The pain of not having your family around, it never ever goes away. It’s something that took me a lot of years to be able to deal with. I have to live my own life; I can’t live life for anybody else. – Sunny Dee-Lite, Miss Continental contestant
My dad picked on my because I had a feminine demeanor growing up. And it sucked. I wanted to play with Barbies and he handed me a baseball bat. But my mom made it aware to me that I can be whatever I want to be. And I was able to be me. – Naysha Lopez, Miss Continental contestant
I have a little brief thing that I want to let everybody know. You know, I know, that it’s very popular these days to call these entertainers drag queens. Let me tell you something. I worked a lifetime to be able to call these entertainers female impersonators. – NikkiAdams, Former Miss Continental contestant
I always tell me that haven’t been to continental that you will never have a pageant experience like you will at Miss Continental. There’s just a vibe around the whole pageant that just amazing. It’s the best of the best. – Tiffany T. Hunter, Miss Continental contestant
It’s glamorous. it’s the closest to Hollywood as we’re probably going to get. – Sheri Payne, 4-time Miss Continental contestant, Baton Show Lounge cast member
For more about any of the performers featured in the film or quoted above, search their name on the fab and comprehensive resource website, Our Community Roots (Shining a Light on Amazing Entertainers Since 2003).