While nobody could’ve predicted that there would be an international pandemic happening when it premiered, HBO’s unscripted drag series “We’re Here” has proven to be a true beacon of light.
The six-episode first season, which is available to stream in full on HBO’s digital platforms, follows drag superstars Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka O’Hara as they travel to various small towns throughout America to give people drag makeovers that, the idea goes, can also help transform their lives overall.
During a recent interview with In The Know’s Gibson Johns, which took place in mid-May before protests sprung up across the country calling for racial justice, D.J. “Shangela” Pierce opened up about the inspiring series.
“I think that a big part of it that we want people to take away is the to be able to embrace the transformative power of drag and to see something greater in themselves maybe than they did before we got there,” Shangela said. “This is a real-life series. And, you know, Shangela — I said it in ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ — ‘I’m Shangela, I keep it real.’ This is definitely a time in which I had to keep it real, and that required me to be very open and very honest and very authentic and also be willing to listen as much as I wanted to be heard.”
Part of what heightens the emotion of each episode of “We’re Here” is the fact that, on the surface, based on location and demographic and stereotypes, it would seem that some of the locales the queens visited wouldn’t be welcome to them or to members of the LGBTQ community in general.
But, as proven by the overwhelming turnouts to the drag shows that end each episode and the receptiveness of the subjects’ loved ones, that largely wasn’t the case, even if it took some aggressive encouragement and convincing from Shangela and co.
“Another big part of the show is about bringing out and helping unearth these communities of support in the most random places, most conservative places that you wouldn’t typically assume that there would be communities of support, and then showing our drag participants and our locals that, ‘You know what, you don’t have to leave this town in order to have people that support you. Let’s look around and help find them,'” she explained.
“When I grew up in my small town of Paris, Texas, I remember my main goal, being a young gay black person, was like, ‘All right, I love this place, but I can’t wait to be 18 to get out of here,'” she went on. “I didn’t have any visible out, loud and proud examples around me of people that I saw, and so I wanted to go to a place where I felt comfortable fully being myself.”
One of the goals of “We’re Here” was simply to help others find some level of comfort in being themselves, regardless of how they’ve been made to feel in the past.
“I think a lot of people don’t feel comfortable being themselves in small towns. But, you know, in my town we didn’t have a local resource center. We didn’t have any drag shows. We had nothing to bring people together who did think alike or support the LGBTQ community and show that support,” Shangela old ITK. “We’re hoping to do that with this show.”
During the process of filming, the “Katy Keene” star found that the friends and families of the show’s subjects were able to let their guards down while sitting around the dinner table.
“I’ve found in working with the families and working with my drag daughters, a lot of times, over a meal, people let their guards down,” she said. “We’re filming a show. We’ve got cameras walking around, PAs and production people in the background, and all that. So it can be sometimes really unsettling for people who aren’t accustomed to being in front of a camera to forget that the cameras are there.”
At the end of the day, the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum hopes that “We’re Here” can provide some comfort, solace and encouragement for people during a time when there’s so much happening out in the world. The show carries with it a message of community and listening to other people’s stories, both of which are needed, especially during Pride month.
“This is a time when people really needed something that was a bright spot, that was something that reconnected them with the spirit of compassion which, you know, reminded us of our humanity, and the joy that we have when we’re connected together as a global community,” Shangela explained. “[It’s] also about accepting others and listening to other people’s stories. I think we ended up getting in front of a lot more people. Isn’t it cool to have a good project to have out there during this time, as well?”
Listen to our full interview with Shangela below:
If you enjoyed this story, check out In The Know’s recent interview with Rickey Thompson here:
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