QUEEN OF LAPA – Review by Diane Carson

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Queen of Lapa profiles a fascinating Brazilian transgender hostel.

Documentarians who offer profiles of individuals strive, of course, to focus on someone of great interest and engaging flair. Well, everyone will have to hunt high and low to outdo directors Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat’s Queen of Lapa. Set in the Lapa neighborhood of Rio De Janeiro, Luana Muniz is the queen, and she deserved the royal title.

In the film’s introduction, titles explain that Luana, “a sex worker since the age of eleven, turned nationally recognized activist, established a safe hostel for transgender sex workers to live and work for over two decades.” Collatos and Monnerat adopt a casual approach, hanging out in the hostel, overhearing conversations, watching brief performances, visiting the streets, and, above all, watching interaction among the residents. What becomes obvious, and as one says, “We’re like a family. . . we cry, we love, we fight.”

What emerges is an informative portrayal of transgender life, its risks and its rewards. Several transgender women calmly relate horrifying encounters with sexually predatory men, with a few fortunate to be alive. Some relate stories of benevolent clients as well. Luana, painting her nails, talks about the importance of beautiful nails to complete the convincing transformation and argues that they never refer to themselves as men. Yet another makes clear their moral belief that “if you’re wicked, it comes back twice as bad . . . good deeds come from our mind.” They debate transvestite and transgender lives, fighting discrimination and prejudice in Brazil.

All call Luana Mother, as Luana encourages, keeps order, chastises, and guides the group. She describes herself as an agent, not a pimp, as “a shining star in the sky that many will come to know.” Luana adds that she’s leave her legacy behind. Director Carolina Monnerat has written that she hopes this project continues Luana’s and her father’s legacy of human rights advocacy. Without a doubt, it’s clear she has succeeded in this fly-on-the-wall homage to Luana’s life and the hostel she founded. With mature subject matter, Queen of Lapa streams beginning June 19 through virtual theaters and LGBTQ+ organizations. For more information, check listings at www.queenoflapa.com

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.