On Friday, Social Media Editor Talia Bloom and Staff Writer Lily Pazner attended Athena Film Festival’s screening of Queen of the Deuce, a film about the life and business pursuits of Chelly Wilson, a lesbian Greek Jew influential to the male porn scene in 1970s NYC.

“Like a mafia queen,” “A force of nature, “Had a lot of chutzpah”—all phrases describing the legendary Chelly Wilson: the most “un-grandma” grandma, remembered for her influence over porn theaters in 1970s NYC. Last Friday, the Athena Film Festival screened Queen of the Deuce, directed by Valerie Kontakos, which brought Chelly’s remarkable story to life. From the very beginning of the film—a scene depicting a Christmas party in the apartment above one of Chelly’s porn theaters—we couldn’t help but think of all the bubbes rolling over in their graves. Nevertheless, the following 90 minutes of documentary-style interviews, animations, images, and audio clips told Chelly’s somewhat-hidden story in a touching manner.

The film focuses on Wilson’s past, touching on her upbringing in Greece where she described herself as a “tomboy” with a passion for the arts. However, the main focus was how the Holocaust impacted her family. In 1939, Wilson left Greece on the last boat from Athens for pre-war America, leaving her youngest daughter, Paulette, with a trusted family friend who raised her as a “known hidden Jew.” As she left for America, she promised that she would come back for her. Wilson’s fierce love for her children was evident in her journey to get them all to America after the war; she called in favors with government officials in Greece to bring her son home from the Israeli army after he fled there during the war.

We couldn’t help but notice how the documentary depicted Wilson’s decisions as acts of bad motherhood, failing to notice the broader context of how the war changed family dynamics and led to hard decisions parents made to protect their children. As only 5% of the Jewish population in Greece survived the Holocaust, the intense criticism of the decisions Wilson made to protect her family felt unrepresentative of the true forces splitting apart families.

The film shifts to describe Wilson’s rise to power over The Deuce, New York’s infamous 42nd Street porn theaters in 1970s NYC, an industry that was described as growing “hair by hair, one pubic hair at a time” (the audience loved that one). Through the mostly male testimonies from other key figures in the industry, it is evident that Wilson was making waves as one of the few women in the business. Focusing more on the rise of the porn industry in NYC as opposed to Wilson’s actual work, we were left wondering what her business and influence actually looked like. The film only depicted how she leveraged bribes and potential mafia ties to accumulate the large bags filled with money in her apartment, perhaps falling into common anti-Semitic tropes.

While we appreciated how the film brought this previously hidden story to light through photos, audio clips, and animation, we have our concerns about how and which elements of Wilson’s life and family the film elevated. For a film that marketed itself as telling the story of a “lesbian who married men”, there were no more than five minutes dedicated to Wilson’s sexuality. The mentions were only humorous remarks of “I didn’t know your mother was gay,” and contrasting the acceptance of queerness during Wilson’s time as opposed to today: “Now it’s whatever: ‘The sky is blue, you’re gay.’”

While the visibility of queerness has certainly changed drastically since the 1970s, we felt as though this sentiment undermined the obstacles, violence, and danger facing queer people today. We also felt as though the film undermined the severity of the Holocaust through the use of humor throughout the discussion and statements about how Jews weren’t the only ones to suffer during the Holocaust, as Greece was faced with starvation. The two most certainly were not the same.

Ultimately, though, we found beauty in this telling of Wilson’s story, and the ways in which her family honors her memory today. The end of the documentary depicts Wilson’s last days and funeral, describing how she wrote a “shopping list” for her funeral with all her and her family’s favorite foods. Her family members describe how “Chelly wanted us to eat this food, enjoy, and toast, as she is with God and has no regrets.” They describe her memory as reminding them to “make the most of every day while you’re here.” It’s clear that Chelly Wilson was a “force of nature” and had an amount of chutzpah we can only aspire to have a fraction of in our own lives.

Queen of the Deuce via Athena Film Festival