Becoming a Queen

Becoming a Queen Review: Heavy Is the Crown

After being postponed for two-years due to the pandemic, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (aka. “Caribana”) will once again be bringing the colourful sights and sounds of the Caribbean culture to the streets of Toronto. While there are a slew of events leading up to the iconic parade, Chris Strikes’ documentary Becoming a Queen serves as a good primer to get you in the mood to whine your hips and wave your flags.

If there is one person who understands both the vibrant energy the carnival infuses in the city, and the historical significance, it is Joella Crichton. Crowned the Queen of Carnival nine times and taking part in the Toronto Caribbean Carnival since she was three years-old, the festival is deeply ingrained in her family’s bones. Not only does Joella compete in the illustrious King and Queen competition, but her older sister Mischka competes in the Individual Women’s competition and her mother Lou-Ann, who immigrated to Canada from St. Vincent and the Grenadines in her twenties, helps with the costume design.

While the lavish and colourful costumes, some of which weigh up to 300 pounds, are a marvel to behold, few truly understand the work that is involved in constructing them. In following Critchton’s quest to win her tenth and final title as Queen, Strikes’ film examines the great lengths that Joella and her team, which includes Lou-Ann and master costume designer Kenney Coombs, endure to construct a theme and outfit that will dazzle both the judges and audiences. Preparing six months in advance, the pressure to deliver their best work is just one of the many stresses Joella must face.

As with any dominant competitor, Joella understands better than anyone that heavy is the head that wears the crown. Currently on a winning steak that has spanned seven straight years, she has become a constant target for competitors determined to take her down by any means. The focus of many rumours, including rumblings of cheating and other nefarious factors, Joella feels the toll of so much negativity and suspicion about her wins. Although it is clear she still has plenty to give on stage, she decides that the 2018 competition will be her swan song. What better way to go out than wearing a crown on your way out?


Although Joella believes stepping away will give other competitors a shot at the throne, it is questionable if it will defuse the intense jealously some rivals have towards her. After all, she now has a film celebrating her life. Becoming a Queen walks a very fine line when it comes to honouring Joella’s success and serving as a promotional vehicle for the multi-talented woman. Strikes constructs the film in such a way that everything is told from either Joella’s point of view or that of her close family and friends. When she talks about the alleged things other people are saying about her, the audience is simply expected to assume that it is true. One never actually hears or sees the bulk of the competitors she faces. The film builds up to a showdown with rising star Celena Seusahai, who faced off against Mischka in previous competitions, but Strikes does not include any direct interviews with the woman to get her views on Joella’s dominance over the years.

The climatic showdown has the same energy of seeing Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls play against the Washington Wizards. You won’t remember the name of the Wizards’ players as Jordan is the only one the camera follows the entire game.

Thankfully, Strikes succeeds in displaying the genuine love that Joella has for the carnival and the opportunity it provides for the Toronto Caribbean community. Although there is a long historical significance to carnival, which the film covers, it didn’t debut in Toronto until 1967. Taking place on the weekend nearest to August 1st, also known as Emancipation Day, which marks the British Empire’s “Slavery Abolition Act” coming into effect, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival has become a source of love, inspiration, education, and acceptance for many. It is a place where all body types can indulge in the joyous sights and sounds of the festivities regardless of their race, sexuality, or gender.

Despite all the positive things it brings to the city, including massive tourist dollars, Joella astutely notes that the Toronto Caribbean Carnival still does not get the respect or monetary assistance it deserves by many outside the community. The elaborate costumes are often made using the designer’s own money and the potential prize winnings barely cover a third of what they put in financially. Furthermore, the artistry and history the designs cultivate are often ignored by many non-Caribbean members of the community who only focus on the scantily clad bodies parading down the street.


While Strikes could have delved even deeper into both the unfair marginalization of the carnival by some and the competitors Joella faced, there is plenty to learn from this film. A fitting celebration of one woman’s impact on a community, Becoming a Queen is worthy of its crown.

Becoming a Queen arrives on VOD/Digital July 19.