By Nelie Diverlus
A moving story of family, connection and community – the 16th annual CaribbeanTales opening night documentary Becoming A Queen teaches us about wins and losses, and the pressure that ensues with both concepts. The bright colours, rich textures, and an incredibly upbeat soundtrack are three distinct elements that bring the culture of the film to life. With its dive into rich history, along with the profound “passing the torch” narrative that is constantly proclaimed throughout, Becoming a Queen pays a magical, colourful homage to the ones who came before us.
“Becoming a Queen pays a magical, colourful homage to the ones who came before us.”
The story dives into Joella Chrichton, a woman striving to receive the title of Queen of Caribbean Carnival for the tenth and final time. Working with a creative team comprised of family certainly does not sound easy – and this film is proof. Differences of creative visions, deadlines and increasing insurmountable pressure placed on Joella to win continuously raises the stakes and tension that this documentary works to resolve. The viewer can share the feeling of adrenaline throughout the entirety of the film; the competition adds a level of stakes - often only attributed with fictional storytelling.
"The competition adds a level of stakes that is often only attributed with fictional storytelling.”
As far as technical elements go, Becoming a Queen sets the bar. Through meticulous detail, three of our senses are satisfied during the duration of the film: the texture draws us into the story by allowing us to almost feel the wardrobe; the glitter, gemstones and crystals all contribute to the compelling visual element of the film, and the incredible and catchy soundtrack keeps us engaged and alive. The life and invigoration of this film cannot be missed; the vibrant colours brighten the entire film, as well as effectively bring us into the world of carnival.
Director Chris Strike’s decision to tie in history into this film is simply brilliant. The lineage of carnival is foreign to most, and by informing the viewers of it, the significance of this film is further projected, as the importance of upholding the tradition of carnival is now on us to remember. Perhaps unknowingly, this was another clever way of incorporating ourselves into the film. Freedom and expressionism are greatly portrayed with glimpses of history, whether through Joella’s family or not, as well as with various footage of people dancing with bright smiles and immense, contagious joy.
The fiery spirit of carnival told through the lens of a seemingly soft protagonist is even more profound than we think. The choice of story told is a masterful portrayal of triumphs and defeats, and the raw human emotion that emerges from it. The authenticity that comes from telling a story surrounding a family deriving from an underrepresented island, living in an underrepresented district, is unmatched. Even if the rest of us haven’t competed in a Caribbean Carnival Competition, the film still speaks to us about what it means to work towards what we desire - not only despite where we come from, but also because of where we come from.
It is safe to say that this film extends beyond our preconceived notions of Carnival. Seeing Black individuals living a free and authentic life of joy and expression is often torn away from us, and it was truly valuable to see us laughing, crying, frustrated, and joyful - genuinely, and wholeheartedly. With a bittersweet completion, Becoming a Queen shows us the importance of community, family, and passion in the midst of triumphs and defeats.
*Editor’s note: Becoming a Queen is the Opening Night title for Caribbean Tales Film Festival ‘21.