‘Queen of the Deuce’ Director on Paying Homage to Chelly Wilson, the Feminist Who Built a Porn Empire

In Valerie Kontakos’ fourth feature, “The Queen of the Deuce,” the New York native, Athens-based director and NYU Tisch School of the Arts alumna, gives an alternate take on cultural history as seen through the eyes of Chelly Wilson, queen of the porno industry in 1970s New York and unconventional feminist, against the backdrop of the rise of feminism, the sexual revolution and gay pride. The film plays in the International Competition at the Thessaloniki Intl. Documentary Festival.

Kontakos says she knew Wilson through her mother, whose brother was a producer of Greek films who, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, would provide Wilson with Greek family films for her Sunday programs. “When I turned 15 or 16, I said to [my mother]: ‘Now that I can work part time, I am going to get myself a job because I want to start making my own money and I want to be independent.’ And, because when she went to New York, my uncle had asked her to go see Chelly to see what kind of operation she was running, they had become friends. So, I guess my mom told her that I was interested in working. She was then still showing Greek films on Sundays. So, I worked selling tickets there at the box office on Sundays, when they showed the Greek films, and the rest of the week they would show porn.”

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She adds: “I was fascinated by her at the age of 16, seeing her interact with people in the business. I think she always stayed with me since then because I admired her so much at that age, when I felt like: ‘I’m gonna be independent and I’m gonna be strong and I’m gonna do it.’ And, here she was, this personification of all these things that I wanted to be as a woman.”

Beyond her profession as the owner of several porn theaters in the infamous Time Square area known as the Deuce from the late ‘60s to the mid ‘80s, Wilson was the epitome of a feminist, a progressive, liberated and independent woman who knew what she wanted and how she wanted it – the personification of the American dream and the self-made woman. “More than a self-made woman because she did everything on her own terms, whereas you can have a self-made woman, but might not have all the other accoutrements. There’s a lot of suffering to being a self-made woman,” Kontakos says.

“The Queen of the Deuce”
“The Queen of the Deuce”

When Wilson came to New York, she embraced its culture and herself as a person and a woman. “I think it was much more liberating than anything that she experienced in Greece. And, I think that she just built on it. She embraced it, but also went further with it. She was able to really fulfill all of these things that she couldn’t do in Greece. I think it was Bondi who said she loved America because she was able to own herself, because I think we’ve only done it in New York at that time.”

The animation in the film was done by Canadian-Indian animator Abhilasha Dewan. Kontakos opted for the animation element in her film because she wanted to bring Wilson into the film as a living character. “She created a living Chelly and I think it works really nicely. I think the editor [Rob Ruzic] does an absolutely fantastic job in the editing, being able to use audio material of Chelly with the animation in such a way that she comes to life.”

Kontakos admits she didn’t want to take the biopic road for this project in spite of an abundance of material for a fiction film or a series. “I just wanted to remember her; just let other people see her the way I saw her and what she meant to me, basically, and what I appreciated from who she was.”

The producers are Kontakos and Despina Pavlaki for Exile Films, and Ed Barreveld for Storyline Entertainment. Cinephil handles international sales.

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