‘Queens’ Team On Expanding The Nature Documentary Space To Show A Kingdom Where Females Rule – Contenders TV: Doc + Unscripted

‘Queens’ Team On Expanding The Nature Documentary Space To Show A Kingdom Where Females Rule – Contenders TV: Doc + Unscripted

National Geographic’s Queens isn’t your typical nature documentary series.

From the first episode, it flips the script on what one might expect out, instead diving deep into the love, loss and resilience of the matriarchal societies in the animal kingdom. And it all started with that very first story of both lionesses and hyenas detailed in the “African Queens” episode.

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“The executive at NatGeo said, ‘We should do this as a whole series,’ ” executive producer Vanessa Berlowitz explained during Deadline’s Contenders TV: Documentary + Unscripted panel. “We kind of looked at each other and went, ‘Surely it’s been done.’ And it hasn’t. So it was just one of those great conversations between two female senior leaders, realizing this was a huge content area that was fresh and exciting.”

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Queens took four years to come to fruition, including a few delays due to the Covid pandemic. In all, the crew actually spent about two and a half of those years filming their subjects, including the bonobo chimps of the Congo basin and the jewel bees of Costa Rica.

Following the females of each community, as the crew (which was also majority female) would soon learn, yielded some surprising results.

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“I was skeptical at first. I thought, ‘Is there really going to be anything new?’ Every show has a surprising behavior,” Berlowitz said. “Something we started to realize was going on was this push-pull between being a leader and a mother, and it’s something I think many of us in our team identified with.”

Certainly, each episode of Queens only piqued their interest more about the animal kingdom and the ways that a male-centric lens has clouded the human understanding of these creatures.

However, the lessons from the project extend far beyond what’s on screen, according to showrunner Chloe Sarash, who joined Berlowitz as well as the series’ director Faith Musembi, on the Contenders panel.

“We really hope that Queens — aside from always pushing for better footage, always pushing for brilliant storytelling, always pushing for something new and exciting for our audience, something relatable, something that reaches new audiences — we’re also saying that there are new ways to make these films and with new voices new talent behind the scenes,” she said.

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Musembi, who is the first Black Kenyan female director of a wildlife film, expanded upon that idea, saying that for herself “Queens would have, at best, been a pipe dream — something you envision and hope that one day you might be able to do, probably won’t be able to do, because that’s just how inaccessible it was to work in this industry.”

Having more voices, as many as possible, in the wildlife and nature documentary space is more important than ever, Musembi argued.

“We just need so many people working [and] different voices, different perspectives,” she continued. “I’m telling these stories, because we all need to be trying to figure out how do we get ourselves out of the situation we’re in with our climate deteriorating.”

Check out the panel video above.

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