Singaporean filmmaker Lei Yuan Bin’s latest subject is local Opera Tang, who has made a mark on the local drag scene since debuting in 2020.
Through vignettes of Tang’s life, the film, which plays in the Singapore International Film Festival’s Singapore Panorama strand, chronicles the performer’s queer journey: from coming-out as a fledgling drag queen, falling in love, competing in drag pageants, to dressing up her supportive 90-year-old grandmother in drag.
Lei’s last film “I Dream of Singapore,” an observational documentary on the continuous labor flow from Bangladesh to Singapore, and the bonds that blossom between social workers and migrant laborers, premiered at the festival in 2019.
“As I produce, direct, shoot and edit my own documentaries, my filmmaking process involves me spending months, if not years, with my subjects, and no other crew members on set. Therefore, I choose to document people that I will enjoy spending time with and who has a story that needs to be shared with more people. I find the love and bonding especially between Opera and her 90-year-old grandmother touching and worth celebrating,” Lei told Variety.
“Baby Queen” premiered at Busan earlier this year. “The reception in Busan was fantastic,” Lei said. “We have received queries from film festivals and distributors. ‘Baby Queen’ will be travelling the film festival circuit in 2023 and some screenings, like the one in Singapore International Film Festival, will come with a drag show.”
Tiger Tiger Pictures funded and produced “Baby Queen” under the Unseen series label created by Glen Goei, a collection of original, feature-length documentaries that give voice to marginalized communities in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
“Baby Queen” is part of an ongoing wave of films from Singapore gaining international prominence. “There is more public and private funding and infrastructure support for Singapore filmmakers today. There are also new production companies, collectives and communities founded to raise the quality and diversity of storytelling and filmmaking,” Lei said.
All this comes at a time when Singapore authorities have sent out mixed messages to the LGBTQ community. Earlier this year, the Singapore government said that it will decriminalize same-sex relationships, but also shore-up the hetero-normative basis of marriage. The InfoComm Media Development Authority, which regulates the media and entertainment sector, said the changes would not lead to a relaxation of content controls.
Lei is staying open for ideas for his next film, which could be either a documentary or fiction film, and he is hoping to collaborate with young filmmakers.
“Baby Queen” plays at the festival on Nov. 30.