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Behind the lens & the drag with ‘Queen of New York’ director Emma Fidel (EXCLUSIVE)

Behind the lens & the drag with ‘Queen of New York’ director Emma Fidel (EXCLUSIVE)
Courtesy Queen of New York; Credit: Emma Fidel and Katie Tutrone

(L) Emmy-nominated journalist and filmmaker Emma Fidel; (R) BTS of Marti Cummings and Fidel

Emmy-nominated director Emma Fidel shares her exhilarating journey capturing the groundbreaking political campaign of Marti Cummings, which is streaming exclusively on the Advocate Channel.

This story is brought to you by our partners at Traverse32 and göt2b.

Queen of New York, an independent film partially financed by göt2b Hair Color & Styling, follows Marti Cummings, a television personality, activist, and beloved drag queen, as they embark on a historic campaign to become New York City's first nonbinary council member. Premiering to acclaim at NewFest last year, and streaming exclusively on the Advocate Channel and Advocate Channel App for free through the end of June, the documentary encapsulates Marti's unwavering commitment to catalyze political transformation in the face of formidable obstacles and adversaries.

Behind the camera, Emmy-nominated journalist and filmmaker Emma Fidel brings an impressive portfolio to Queen of New York, having previously worked on acclaimed documentaries for streaming giants like HBO, Netflix, and Amazon. Directed by Fidel, and produced by Fidel, Robert Profusek, Daniel Ming, Gigi Dement, and executive produced by Donna Gruneich along with TRAVERSE32's Brendan Gaul and Brett Henenberg, the collaboration yields a visually captivating and emotionally profound cinematic experience. In an exclusive interview with The Advocate, Fidel dives into what production was like and the politics of being first.

BTS of Cummings and Fidel BTS of Cummings and FidelCourtesy Queen of New York; Credit: Emma Fidel

Queen of New York’s production started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020. For Fidel, working on her first feature film was a daunting process. From managing so many different moving parts, including a plethora of candidates to feature, to navigating safety protocols, production was intense. “It was a lot to learn on the go,” Fidel shares. “Learning how to juggle and how to approach everything in a way that would end up making sense in the edit room was a challenge.”

Another challenge when making a documentary is establishing trust with your subject. For Fidel, who hadn’t met Marti before discussing the film, adhering to her journalistic background and maintaining open and honest communication was paramount to eliciting Marti’s emotion on film. “I wanted to show them that I really respected them and took their campaign seriously,” Fidel explains. “We filmed for a year and a half, and Marti and I spent so much time together and got to know each other and built that trust as we went. It's really important for me as a filmmaker to always be aware of the kind of power dynamics that exist when you are making a film about somebody else. And that was a conversation that Marti and I had repeatedly.”

BTS of Peachez Iman Cummings and FidelBTS of Peachez Iman Cummings and FidelCourtesy Queen of New York; Credit: Emma Fidel

During production, Fidel was interested in exploring the challenges inhibiting diverse representation in political spheres, particularly within the LGBTQIA community. “I have been covering politics as a journalist for a number of years, and I think the thing that interests me the most is finding stories of people who are trying to upend the status quo that for so long has been white, cis, straight and male,” Fidel remarks. “Marti was trying to be the first drag queen and the first non-binary person in all of New York City Council. Trying to do something different is always hard, but to me, it's so inspiring, and seeing Marti's example inspired and empowered so many others.”

Furthermore, Fidel extols the subversive power of drag, heralding it as a catalyst for social change and inclusivity, noting, “Drag queens have always been pillars in the queer community. Marti always says there are no limits to drag because drag is what you make of it. And that spirit is what enables drag artists to be impactful leaders and icons, both from an entertainment perspective and a political perspective.”

As the documentary progresses to election night, Fidel shares a pivotal moment during production that not only resonated with her but also with everyone watching. “Results were kind of rolling in online and Marti got news that they were in second place,” Fidel recalls. “They gave this heartfelt speech that really captured the heart and soul of what they had been doing over this campaign. There was a line they said that I hope captures the message of the film, which is that for any young queer people out there who don't feel ready to speak for themselves necessarily, there are so many people out there who are advocating for you and who care about you and will speak up until you’re ready to do so as well.”

BTS of Fidel with Cummings and Ilana GlazerBTS of Fidel with Cummings and Ilana GlazerCourtesy Queen of New York; Credit: Emma Fidel

Fidel hopes that Marti’s impact and the impact of Queen of New York on audiences help many of the most underrepresented members of the LGBTQIA community feel inspired and supported. “I hope that queer and gender-nonconforming people who watch the film feel seen and held by the other queer and gender-nonconforming people on screen,” Fidel expresses. “I hope that this film continues to reach those people and I hope it expands cis people's understanding of gender-nonconforming people, and to be open-minded and to have respect for their fellow human beings. We're all humans, and we all deserve that respect off the bat, but I am glad that through telling this story it helps some people understand the queer community a bit better.”

Fidel has one more hope that summarizes the goal of her film. “What I really hope, and what Marti's goal was through all of this, is that the film will inspire people to get civically involved in their community. So much of queer progress in politics depends on all of us being involved and everyone participating in our democracy.”

Queen of New York is available online for free through the end of June on the Advocate Channel and Advocate Channel App. Download the Advocate Channel App for your mobile phone and your favorite streaming device, includingApple Store,Google Play,Roku,Apple TV,Fire TV, andGoogle TV.

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Nic Austin

Branded Content Editor

Nic Austin is passionate about providing a platform in media for the LGBTQ+ community. He strives to tell stories about his community through the leading LGBTQ+ publications in the country. His mission is to amplify marginalized LGBTQ+ voices through partnerships with prominent brands and leaders in our community.


A graduate from NYU Tisch, Nic Austin has always connected with the written word and its ability to change minds. He has applied this love for writing to analyzing LGBTQ+ media and how the LGBTQ+ community has been represented on screen. Before working as an Editor at equalpride, Nic Austin was the Editor-in-chief of The Queer Queue and the co-host of both The Queer Queue Podcast and The Queerly News. In his spare time, Nic Austin writes film criticism while enjoying the mountain views of Denver, Colorado.

Nic Austin is passionate about providing a platform in media for the LGBTQ+ community. He strives to tell stories about his community through the leading LGBTQ+ publications in the country. His mission is to amplify marginalized LGBTQ+ voices through partnerships with prominent brands and leaders in our community.


A graduate from NYU Tisch, Nic Austin has always connected with the written word and its ability to change minds. He has applied this love for writing to analyzing LGBTQ+ media and how the LGBTQ+ community has been represented on screen. Before working as an Editor at equalpride, Nic Austin was the Editor-in-chief of The Queer Queue and the co-host of both The Queer Queue Podcast and The Queerly News. In his spare time, Nic Austin writes film criticism while enjoying the mountain views of Denver, Colorado.