Larger-than-life actress, cabaret performer, activist, and proud sex professional since the age of eleven, Luana Muniz - arguably one of Brazil’s most recognizable transgender personalities, shapes a new reality for a new generation of transgender sex workers in her hostel by providing a safe working environment in the dangerous neighborhood of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro. Queen of Lapa explores the day-to-day lives, quests for love, housemate rivalries in a turbulent political climate under matriarch Muniz’s watchful and guiding eye.
I grew up in the neighborhood of Gloria, which is adjacent to Lapa, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Queen of Lapa is my directorial debut, and the project is very personal to me.
I have known about Luana Muniz and her safe home for transgender sex workers living and working in Lapa ever since I was a child. My father was a neighborhood negotiator at one point in the early 1990’s, and negotiated between the sex workers and our neighborhood leaders.
The sex workers work on a street that joins Gloria and Lapa, and the residents of Gloria were growing concerned about the activity. Fortunately, my father managed to make all parties happy in the end, which led to greater cooperation and understanding between the neighborhood residents and the sex workers, who still work there to this day. My grandmother is a famous civil rights leader and revolutionary in Brazil, and I feel this project is my way of continuing her and my father's legacy of human rights advocacy.
In 2010, my husband and collaborator Theodore Collatos and I went back to Rio to visit family. During the trip we ended up talking with mutual friends of Luana's who encouraged us to meet with her about the possibility of working on a project together. After a great deal of research, we were amazed at the extent of Luana’s influence on the city of Lapa in terms of civil rights. For example, she once took on legislators in a public assembly and single-handedly changed the cities’ primitive policies regarding the public safety and rights of transgender sex workers.
Luana was gracious enough to allow a personal meeting, which she rarely does, at her apartment. We chatted for hours into the night about life. What struck us most was learning about her hostel that housed up to thirty-six sex workers, and her intention to make it an institution for transgender sex workers to live safely and grow for generations to come.
We returned to the USA inspired, and hoped to one day return to tell this beautiful story. Six years later we returned during the Summer Olympic Games in 2016, with Luana's blessing to begin filming.
We were able to attain this exclusive, never-before-granted-access, only because of Luana's deep trust in us as honest people and our vision of simply living in the space without any preconceived agenda or message, but rather to tell the story of Luana and her hostel.
We believe the result is a powerful statement on humanity, love and grace.
Carolina Monnerat (co-director, producer)