In order to be beautiful, not just sweat but tears must also be shed. In this case, those tears belong to Memi, an eleven-year-old beauty queen from rural Argentina and the subject of the short documentary La Reina. We meet her as she basks under the lights, tiaras, and garlands that come with a recent victory. The film then follows Memi and her mother as they prepare for the next pageant. This one, however, will require her to wear a ten-pound headdress that will test her threshold for discomfort and pain.
Similar to reality show Toddlers & Tiaras, which chronicles how three-year-old girls go from average fun-loving kids to mutant princesses, La Reina goes behind the spray tan and the sequins to uncover a competitive and determined stage mom, who would rather give her daughter a Vicodin than loosen the straps of her costume. Unlike the synthetic cuteness that cloaks the lurid implications of a toddler acting “sexy” and allows viewers to relish the little brat’s tantrums and laugh as she stumbles in high heels, La Reina is less frivolous. An unflinching, verite camera makes us witnesses, and indirect participants, to the ways girls are socialized, gendered and trained to prize their beauty above all else.
The film’s climax takes place moments before Memi is about to make her big entrance as her mother tenaciously clips, zips, and fastens the cumbersome headdress onto her daughter’s head. Memi’s screams are harrowing, tempered only by our memory of a triumphant Memi beneath the lights, thrilled to be the center of attention. The film was directed by Manuel Abramovich. It has screened at 150 festivals worldwide and has won over 50 awards in the process.