Toronto has a Queen. And she doesn’t live across the pond.
Directed by Chris Strikes, Queen follows Joella Crichton, Toronto’s reigning queen of Carnival. Joella is sharp, smart and willing to do whatever it takes to win. As a result, she has taken the crown of Caribbean Queen for an amazing nine years and is looking to step down on top. With one final competition, Joella once again steps into the costume with the intent of retiring as champion.
Set in the heart of Toronto’s Caribbean community, Becoming a Queen speaks to the importance of celebrating culture. In some ways, the film takes the best qualities of ‘sports films’ to keep it entertaining. By emphasizing the final competition, Strikes does an excellent job building up to the ‘final battle’. (And, without any spoilers, the finale contains some surprising moments.) Even so, though the film focuses on Joella’s challenge for her unprecedented 10th crown, there is a celebration and recognition of the power of elevating Toronto’s Caribbean contingent that encourages all who are involved. With its emphasis on history and empowerment, Strikes uses the film to educate those who are unaware of the festival of its importance to Toronto’s multi-cultural environment.
However, Queen also recognizes that exhibitions like Carnival do not always get the recognition that they deserve. One particularly poignant moment, Joella notes the frustration that she felt in university when describing her performances as ‘art’. Told by her professors that her work should be considered ‘craft’, she becomes offended as it appears that they are belittling her family‘s hard work and its relevance. In this way, the film recognizes the subtle ways that the government can neglect the Caribbean population. Her incredible performances and the amazing artistry that her team creates is far from merely scrapbooking. Instead, these costumes are a celebration of her culture and its past.
What’s more, JoelIa also uses her accomplishments as an opportunity to pass on her legacy to the next generation. To her, these performances are not simply about showmanship but rather honouring a much larger cultural story. As such, part of her joy from winning is the chance to pass that on legacy on to youth who can take up her mantle and step into that . Joella recognizes that she has had her time in the sun and she is looking for ways for others to have theirs as well.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that these lavish outfits are more than simply stunning pieces to draw the eye. In fact, the relationship between performer and costume is quite elaborate. While these incredibly massive (but glorious) pieces may be the most prominent aspect of the performance, it is its connection to the contestant that makes it special. Joella understands the importance of a powerful visual but so also understands that victory requires a strong entertainer as well. One cannot operate without the other.
In Queen, Joella is shown as confident and courageous. However, what’s most striking about her is her resiliency. As her incredibly long incredible win streak continued to grow, she becomes faced with accusations of somehow tainting the judges. Although she is innocent of any impropriety, she is instead left to feel shame for her incredible accomplishment. Even so, these baseless accusations reveal a strength within her that is admirable.
What’s more, JoelIa also uses her accomplishments as an opportunity to pass on her legacy to the next generation. To her, these performances are not simply about showmanship but rather honouring a much larger cultural story. As such, part of her joy from winning is the chance to pass that on legacy on to youth who can take up her mantle. Joella recognizes that she has had her time in the sun and she is looking for ways for others to have theirs as well.
As the credits roll on Becoming a Queen, one can’t help but feel like they’ve taken more away from it than just a great story. While Joella’s potential journey towards the podium for a 10th time is fascinating, the film recognizes that she’s only one part of a rich historical tapestry.
And Joella’s role as queen is to preserve that story with honour and pass it along.
Becoming a Queen is available on VOD/Digital on July 19th, 2022.