Becoming a Queen follows Joella Crichton, who set out in 2018 to win her 10th Queen of the Band competition at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. Crichton had won the previous nine years — certainly no small feat given the complexity of competing in the sort of masquerade (“mas” for short) costume that requires rollers and straps just to carry on and off the stage.
Director Chris Strikes met Crichton while working on a separate project and convinced her that filming a documentary in the lead-up to her potential 10th win would bring awareness to the elements of Caribbean culture she cares for and the value of the Carnival event itself, in this case brought all the way to Toronto by the vibrant immigrant community. Strikes had good instincts: Queen is a thorough, thoughtful look at the event and the performers who spend months preparing for a single night.
Crichton is from a family of women whose lives have been shaped by Carnival “mas” performances. Her mother, Lou-Ann, performed in St. Vincent & the Grenadines before she moved to Canada. Mischka, Joella’s older sister, competes separately each year and, at the time, had won the Female Individual title three times. The three of them discuss what Carnival means to them, particularly as women. They emphasize that it is one day every year where women of all shapes and sizes can express themselves publicly without judgement. It’s wholly different from the relatively buttoned-up world of Toronto.
Competing is a months-long family activity for them, and fortunately they’re able to rely on costume designer Kenny Coombs, whose work has earned him legendary status in the Carnival community. Much of the focus is on the massive pieces he built for Crichton each year she won and what they hope to convey with her 2018 performance. As someone who had never seen a Carnival costume like this, it was pretty shocking to see how gigantic these rigs are. They’re mobile art installations. Each woman must enter and exit the stage under her own power, tugging the mountain of fabric and other decorations while smiling and putting on a performance.
Queen is about the build-up to Crichton’s 2018 performance, and it’s not worth spoiling the outcome in a review. Win or lose, she went into it knowing it would likely be her last for at least a considerable amount of time, and she does her best to enjoy it rather than focusing on the pressure of cementing a 10th consecutive win. Being a Queen, though, isn’t just about the performance. Strikes goes into Crichton’s real dream — to use Carnival and her status to educate the young men and women of her community about their shared heritage. Regardless of whether she wins, that’s a legacy that can’t be taken from her.