Qweens’ Speech shines a light on the “impossible broadness” of the LGBTQIA+ community
Featuring the likes of Munroe Bergdorf, Sam Smith, Kate Moross, Kai-Isaiah Jamal and Rina Sawamaya, the short film offers a refreshing alternative to the Queen’s speech.
- 12 February 2020
- Jyni Ong
- Reading Time
- 3 minutes
While Linden Zhang (of film directing duo Zhang + Knight) wanted to be a classical oil painter, his creative partner Hannah Knight wanted to be an opera singer. Now, however, they both make films. In the past, the duo have created music videos for the likes of Sigrid, Nao and Ghostpoet, but in their latest short for Dazed the directing partners turn their lens on a more personal subject, queer identity.
“Both of us are queer,” explains Hannah, “and instantly gravitated towards that ‘otherness’ in one another.” Having met at university, Hannah and Linden spent their studies fuelled with indignation at the fact that none of the films on the syllabus were made “by people like us” – “whether that be queer, non-white or female,” she continues. As a result, the pair resolved “to make films that would resonate with people like us,” and their latest, Qweens’ Speech, is no exception.
Featuring Munroe Bergdorf, Sam Smith, Crystal Rasmussen, Gareth Pugh, Kate Moross, Kai-Isaiah Jamal, Rina Sawamaya and Lady Phyll, the two-and-a-half-minute film started out as a way to make an alternative Queen’s speech. Linden and Hannah were in Kazakhstan when they received an email from Acne collective asking them to take part. Approached by Eduardo Fitch, Lisa Turner-Wray, Daisy Bard and Orla O’Connor, the creatives were looking for queer directors to reflect on the past year through the eyes of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“For us,” Linden tells us, “the idea instantly conjured up Cecil Beaton’s ethereal portraits of the Queen and Princess Margaret – regal, beautiful and unashamedly lavish.” With this in mind, the directors proposed to create similar tableaux with a hint of subversion, opting to use plastics and other so-called “trashy” materials instead of ermine furs and silk.
With this “deconstruction of royalty” in mind, Linden and Hannah started working on the film. With the help of DOP Rubin Woodin Dechamps, production designer Elizabeth El-Kadhi and stylist Taff Williamson, the talented crew “knocked it out of the park,” with their professionalism evident in the evocative final outcome. Above all, however, the one-day production was a true inspiration in spending the day “with so many people who wear their queerness so comfortably,” says Hannah. She continues: “The Qweens were all so unapologetically themselves and it left a very profound impression on both of us. We realised how much energy we put into trying to be ‘inconspicuous’ in daily life.”
On the other hand, filming eight of the UK’s busiest LGBTQIA+ stars around Christmas proved to be a completely different challenge. On the day of the shoot, each contributor had a very small window of time in which to nail the sequence in between their bustling schedules of events and, as you can imagine, anxious agents and publicists watched over everything. When it came to the powerful script, packed with information, the writing process was more collaborative, as Linden explains: “There were topics that we passionately wanted to discuss, such as the reformation of the Gender Recognition Act, and the creatives gave us so much support to include them. And likewise, they also had topics which they felt were crucial.”
The stars of the film shaped the script “into something beautiful”, crafting the words into something uniquely personal to them. “It was a really moving process,” Hannah recalls. Though it is impossible to embody the diversity of the queer community through a film, Qweens’ Speech is a wonderfully expressive work, exemplifying the individuality of the community. The directors go on: “It is so difficult to categorise or represent so many people who fundamentally defy categorisation! Hopefully the Qweens in the final film communicate that nebulousness: the LGBTQIA experience is impossibly broad, because the people themselves are so very different, and yet it is that otherness which is at the heart of the community, and the source of so much strength.”
GalleryQweens’ Speech: Photography by Chloe Sheppard
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.