The fearless Sierra Leone drag queen defying her anti-LGBTQ+ society

Queen Harold by filmmaker Balan Evans is a compelling snapshot of a joyful, resilient queer couple in West Africa

Jiva was thrown out of his parental house for being gay at the age of 11. Born in Sierra Leone, Jiva has reckoned with a country where engaging in same-sex activity is punishable by life imprisonment. It was only when he met Harold – a fearless drag queen and the subject of short documentary Queen Harold, by filmmaker Balan Evans – that he began feeling comfortable in his own skin.

“He was the only one who rescued me. He was the one that showed me that I have to stand in the world that I’ve found myself in,” Jiva confesses.

With a moving score by London-based producer Nabihah Iqbal, the film – which is shot entirely on 16mm film – offers a personal and poignant snapshot into underground queer culture in the country’s capital, Freetown. Filmed inside the couple’s home with a series of informal interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage, Evans highlights the social and institutional prejudice directed towards the city’s LGBTQ+ community, and how it affects their everyday lives. “It’s not easy for me in this country because I’ve faced so much humiliation as a drag queen (sic),” says Harold, 30. Harold recounts times when the local community have thrown stones at her for being openly gay. “People don’t hire you because they’re scared that if the government knows that I’m working for them, they’ll be arrested (sic),” adds Jiva, who is 25.

Despite the hostility towards the queer community, the subjects of Evans’ film remain fearlessly true to who they are – Evans says they were given the choice to hide their faces, but they refused. For the couple, pride is something you must wear on your sleeves, and it’s should be celebrated. “I will give my life to the LGBT community so that we can have rights in our own country (sic),” says Harold. “I don’t care what people say. I’ve been gay since I was born so I will do anything I want to do because I am proud to be gay.”

It was exactly this inner strength that attracted Balan to his subjects in the first place. “I was struck by their incredible resilience, joy and determination in fighting for their LGBTQ+ rights in a country where homosexuality is still illegal. I wanted to make something that simply told their story about strength, life and a need to love freely in Freetown,” he tells Dazed. “When I met Harold and Jiva, they were so fearless in their demand to live, love, and be whoever they wanted to be, despite the ostracism that they had received. Their courage was beautiful and I felt needed to be shown.”

Harold and Jiva are determined to live authentically, refuting a society that tries to dictate their narrative. They set a compelling example for queer and cis people alike: to always remain true to who you are, politically, socially, or personally. “I simply want people to see it, and I hope they gain something from hearing the story of Harold and Jiva,” concludes Evans.

Watching the stunning film, part of our series celebrating Pride month, above now.