Sound Unseen Review: Queens of the Revolution
Inside the loving, revolutionary walls of El Mejunje
By Sara Hutchinson,
10:31PM, Tue. Nov. 17, 2020
“We live in a world that demands resistance,” explains a speaker early on in Queens of the Revolution.
Rebecca Heidenberg’s new documentary ( which got its world premiere at the Sound Unseen Film Festival) tells the story of El Mejunje, a cultural center in Santa Clara, Cuba. It serves as a hub of social resistance, a safe harbor for Santa Clara’s queer community, and an artistic powerhouse. At El Mejunje, we meet all the key characters of the film. Drag queens preparing for their performances, long standing employees, and loyal patrons who have spent decades as members of the community.
It’s clear from the start that El Mejunje is a special, even sacred place for its members. And while the center serves as the connecting fiber for all of the film’s subjects, each character offers up their own story. It’s remarkable how many different experiences the film is able to capture: the HIV+ custodian, who remains a proud Cuban despite being incarcerated by the government or the grande dame of the house, Cynthia, who mentors young performers, despite her own traumatic past.
Each story is simultaneously miraculous and devastating, yet, thanks to the film's observational tone, the sadness of the stories never becomes heavy handed. We watch the queens prepare for an organized action, see them chant “Yes Socialism, No Homophobia!” or we listen to them speak plainly about their struggles as queer people. Yet there’s no further commentary beyond these everyday scenes and the historical and policy implications of their lived experiences, while inherent, are left implicit.
Poet and academic Audre Lorde once described self-preservation as “an act of political warfare.” And of course, she was right. Living a life honestly and openly, despite great persecution, existing in spite of violent oppression is most certainly an act of resistance in and of itself. Yet, it feels wrong to describe the film as a story of resilience or one of resistance, even though it is both those things.
Most essentially, it feels like a story of creation. Unlike many of their LGBTQ+ peers who fled the country during Cuba’s most severe period of persecution, the community of El Mejunje chose to stay. It’s their home after all, and, as many speak about in the film, they’re too proud of it to leave it behind. In Queens of the Revolution, we witness world builders, carving out a safer, more beautiful, and entirely new place to call home.
Queens of the Revolution
Sound Unseen Film + Music Festival, Nov. 11-15. www.soundunseen.com.