The life of legendary Māori drag queen Carmen will be brought to screen during the International Film Festival.

GURL, is a musical fantasy by artist and activist Mika X (Mika Haka). His 20-minute short film, made as a chapter in the planned feature, The Book of Carmen, is screening in the Māori Pasifika Shorts 2020 selection of the festival.

Haka has created a lightly disguised retelling of the true story of Carmen Rupe in which he reimagines the golden age of New Zealand's 1970s bustling underground sex scene.

There's even an appearance from an anonymous All Black in GURL the movie, where fact and fiction are blended.


"The All Black is a composite of several famous New Zealanders and international people who became Carmen's lovers," Haka tells Spy.

"One thing Carmen and I discussed over the five years of creating the script was to blend characteristics of each of those lovers so that it would be challenging to distinguish who we are actually talking about."

The original feature idea came in the 90s when acclaimed screen film-maker Merata Mita supported Haka to write the first draft of the script. The short version has been in the works for at least 10 years.

Haka first met Carmen when he was performing at the Sydney Opera House in the 1980s.

"She was up on the Cross and so was I. The Sydney gay and lesbian Mardi Gras was on, so the timing was quite perfect."

Over the years the pair shared many memories right up until Carmen's death nearly a decade ago.

"My fondest memories are actually very simple ones. Carmen, to me, was more like your favourite auntie or nana. She had that ability to be kind and gracious. Like me, she didn't drink, smoke or take drugs and because we were both Aids activists, we had quite a lot in common on many, many levels."

Through the decades, Haka regularly escorted Carmen to many events when she was in New Zealand. He made the first stage show about her life in the 1990s as part of the Hero Festival, the 90's version of today's Pride Festival.


Jay Tewake has taken on the role of Carmen in GURL, with a supporting cast that includes Jackie Clarke, Brady Peeti and Regan Taylor.

"One of Carmen's requests, when she and I were talking about making the film, was that she wanted a beautiful gayboy to play her. She also wanted cisgender females and a multitude of races actually to play her.

"I chose Jay after auditioning several people, because Jay was calm and did not have some of the stereotypical affectations that we associate with gay culture. In Jay, I found someone who was fluid, natural and even fumbles a little bit as Carmen could do."