Meet the queer activist who bravely protests on the streets of Russia in drag

Gena Marvin in drag on the underground (left) and out of drag

Queendom star Gena Marvin is urging Russians to watch her radical documentary after the country’s Supreme Court declared that LGBTQ+ activists are “extremists”.

The 90-minute film, directed by Agniia Galdanova, offers an intimate insight into Mavin’s life as a genderqueer drag queen who unapologetically took to the streets of Russia to protest anti-LGBTQ+ laws and the invasion of Ukraine among other political causes. 

“I saw it as a radical tool and an opportunity to give a voice to the people who didn’t have the same platform as I had – and I really wanted to speak for minorities and amplify their voices,” Marvin tells PinkNews about their drag.

One stomach-churning Queendom scene sees Marvin wrap their body in barbed wire as an anti-war statement before promptly being detained. This is just one instance amongst countless displays of disorienting, explosively colourful and anguished public performances, all rooted in Marvin’s drag. 

Now with over 137k followers on Instagram, the 24-year-old drag artist speaks to PinkNews from their bedroom in Paris after seeking asylum from Russia’s authoritarian laws. 

She is all too aware that Queendom’s release coincides with the Russian Supreme Court’s latest ruling that brands the so-called LGBTQ+ ‘movement’ as extremist – which could result in queer people being imprisoned for simply existing.

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“I want to say that my story is not unique. It’s a universal story,” Marvin passionately declares. “There are many stories like mine out there in the world. I want this film to be as widely available in Russia as possible, not just for the LGBTQ+ community but for any people who are affected by the new laws. 

“I really want people to see this film and to understand what kind of damage the state does to the unit of family, to their sons, to their daughters, to the children, to everyone involved.”

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For the drag artist, her life has always been lived in extremes. Growing up in Magadan, a Russian far east port town haunted by its past of Soviet labour camps (the Gulag), Marvin never truly fitted in. 

A still from Queendom.
A still from Queendom. (Dogwoof)

It was “very, very difficult” even accept you were queer in Magadan, let alone come out – but that didn’t stop her. “I always knew [I was queer] and I was very open about my sexuality and that made me a target for everyone, including fellow queer people,” Marvin remembers of her childhood. 

“They were too afraid to hang out with me and to be friends with me because that was dangerous for them because I was just so open. But I made a few friends and most, if not all, were girls.”

After leaving Magadan in 2009 for the bright lights of St Petersburg, Marvin discovered her love for drag through the city’s vibrant underground queer scene and never looked back.

In 2013, the Russian state introduced its notorious anti-gay ‘propaganda’ law, further fuelling Marvin’s fire to make a meaningful impact. “The numbers of people who were really going against us just skyrocketed,” Marvin explains. “During this wave I opened up more as a person with my own art.”

Gena Marvin amplifies LGBTQ+ Russian struggle in Queendom.
Gena Marvin amplifies LGBTQ+ Russian struggle in Queendom. (Dogwoof)

Deciding to move away from “traditional drag”, Marvin instead adopted the unique and audacious political costuming that has quickly become her modus operandi.

Queendom it has plenty of critical heft and star power behind it, with non-binary The Crown star Emma Corrin hosting a screening of the film in London earlier this month.

“We exchanged messages of love and support for one another [over Instagram],” Marvin says about Corrin’s involvement. “I feel extremely happy that someone like Emma supports the project.”

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Queendom‘s resonance with viewers should be no surprise, given its unique look at Marvin’s trailblazing and utterly courageous drag activism, the resilience of the queer Russian community, and the ability for queer joy to remain in the face of abuse and Marvin’s complicated relationship with her family.

In an era when drag is more under threat than ever across the globe, Queendom serves as a timely manifesto on the power of artistic expression.

Queendom is available to watch in select cinemas now.

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