Though it was first released some 50 years ago, The Queen, the 1968 drag documentary, is now available to stream for the first time ever. Released this month, the film, which was restored and color corrected last year by Kino Lorber and the Harry Ransom Center, is now available on Netflix in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia.
Just over an hour in length, The Queen is a depiction of parts of queer life before the Stonewall Uprising, before gay liberation, and much before drag hit the mainstream. It chronicled the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant. That drag pageant was the creation of one Miss Flawless Sabrina, the RuPaul of her time. Sabrina produced and oversaw a national circuit of feeder pageants, interfacing with drag queens and queer people in almost every state. The Queen showed a glimpse of this.
Like RuPaul’s Drag Race after it, some of the most potent moments are the ones of the contestants getting into drag. There, they talk about their lives as queer men, discussing the military, acceptance, and their love lives. All of this as they borrow each other’s wigs, and help apply makeup.
For some, this will all prove quite sleepy and forgettable. Those are the ones looking for reveals, stunts, and Untucked-like drama. While the stunts are basically a no go, long before Shangela’s “Sugar Daddy” speech, Crystal LaBeija let loose a read to be remembered for ages. She accuses Miss Flawless Sabrina of rigging the pageant for Halow, and hits Harlow with the most forceful backhanded compliment I’ve heard in some time: “You’re beautiful and you’re young, and you deserve the best in life but you didn’t deserve this. I didn’t say she wasn’t beautiful, I said she wasn’t looking beautiful tonight, look at her makeup; she doesn’t equal me.”
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As the legend goes, that pageant was LaBeija’s last before she defected to a small, but growing series of balls. She held a ball of her own, put on by the “House of LaBeija,” essentially forming the house-ball community in the process.