A Review of Sarah Vianney's Queens of Botswana
By Christina Schultz
When you think of Botswana, you probably wouldn’t associate the Southern African country with Heavy Metal music or rocker Kings and Queens clad in black leather. You might instead think of its independence from Britain in 1966, its vast desert landscapes (around 70% of Botswana is desert) and its peaceful stability compared to other African countries.
Yet female filmmaker Sarah Vianney took a crew to Botswana in 2017 to follow a group of such Heavy Metal rockers, known as the “Marok” in Setswana, for a week on their way to a festival in Gaborone near the border to South Africa. As we join them on their journey, we meet Queen Ludo, Queen Florah and Queen Gloria, as they call themselves in the scene, three hard working, amiable women, who happen to like the “wrong” kind of music and dress in a “non-Christian” way. It is important to note that in the mostly Christian country of Botswana, black leather is linked to Satanism.
Hearing this, you might think the Marok are a rowdy bunch of boozing, devil worshipping, trouble makers, but they are far from it. The group of young men and women tries to raise its profile in their community. They might headbang and listen to loud, unholy music but they also pick up garbage around town, they make their own creative outfits and some of them live with their parents and help out at home. So how bad can they really be? As it turns out, not at all.
In Queens of Botswana, Vianney reveals a beautiful story of women searching for freedom, liberation, excitement and even empowerment. However, it doesn’t get to their heads (as it might in the Western World, I might add). The Queens have found a tight-knit group of people who understand them and allow them an escape from their daily routines. The festival in Gaborone is the highlight of the Queens’ year and the 52-minute documentary closes with this happy occasion. We can’t help but smile as we watch the women enjoy themselves, but perhaps we also realize that we take such enjoyments for granted. It goes without saying that in a culture like the one in Botswana, women do not enjoy the same freedoms as we do, which is why Vianney telling this story is of the utmost importance. Not only could the positive exposure in Queens of Botswana potentially help the Marok’s reputation, the documentary reveals an ultimately feminist narrative. It is more than just an interesting story of heavy metal culture in an unlikely place, it is a story of women who love the music so much it becomes a driving force in their lives, which in turn empowers them to break out of their shells in a conservative culture and society.
Left: Sarah Vianney and her crew interviewing Queen Gloria. Right: Sarah Vianney talking to her crew.
I'd like to extend special thanks to Sarah Vianney for reaching out to us at Femfilmfans (we hope other filmmakers will do the same!) and for graciously sending us the images seen above.