The leading contender for a compelling spinoff would have to be Sunny

Dee-Lite. In The Queens, she bares her beautiful soul, recounting how her family decided that she no longer existed. It is a heartbreaking confessional moment, but Sunny survives proudly. “I’ve been in this industry a long time,” Sunny Dee-Lite said. “In competition, there’s a certain drive that you have, but there’s also the friendships that you build and that you nurture over the years.” She summons up her regal past: “Long before there was RuPaul’s Drag Race, long before there was TV vigilance for transgender women as well as pageant competitors from the LGBTQ community, this was how you branded yourself. This was how you expanded your name, your market, and how you were able to travel the nation and gain notoriety, was by doing pageants of this nature. It’s definitely an investment.” But Sunny Dee-Lite invests more than just time into Miss Continental; she spends tens of thousands of dollars competing for pageant prominence. “A monetary prize that you win in a pageant, you will never get compensated

for what you invested into the pageant. But your dream and your goal, that has no monetary value. That’s something that’s within you, and it’s such a feeling of satisfaction when you actually achieve that goal and when you’ve been able to fulfill that dream,” she said. Sunny Dee-Lite’s ambition ripples through the screen and into your

streaming reality. The palpable tension in The Queens is a feat of compelling filmmaking, courtesy of Saxenmeyer. “The whole culture in the last decade around transgender rights, acceptance and understanding has just grown exponentially,” he said. “So when we started

Jim Flint receives a kiss from a former Miss Continental winner

shooting this film in 2011 to today, that’s nine years. I mean, a lot has changed, and we made edits and changes along the way as we got feedback, because with anything, you have to adapt to those changes. So we did that, but at the same time, I tried to keep it representative of what it is and what it’s always been.” Community and competition collide at Miss Continental, a well-manicured nail-biter of a gathering that unfolds like a feather boa in The Queens. “I love telling stories that no one knows about,” Saxenmeyer said. “And outside of this slice of transgender subculture, I don’t think most people know about this, and it hopefully will open doors to not only the talent that’s there and give these performers a platform, but maybe give the whole showcase some kind of national viewing.” Speaking of which, Saxenmeyer invites audiences to rush into cyberspace and enjoy The Queens right damn now: “We’ve released it through Vimeo on Demand just to begin with, and hopefully we’ll get it to other platforms too, for people to see, but we encourage them to check it out.” Saxenmeyer nurtured The Queens from its royal birth to its award-winning

coronation on the world stage. “This is a labor of love,” he said. “I’m so glad it’s finally released.” The subjects in Saxenmeyer’s documentary engage in a spirited competition

in order to achieve their true victory: inclusion. Just like a pageant winner acknowledging her adoring crowd, the colors of the rainbow flag converge to flutter their message of harmony and diversity. Long may they wave.

Sunny Dee-Lite during the evening gown competition

September 2020 | @theragemonthly 17

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