“The biggest way to fight discrimination is exposure. People just fear what they don’t understand,” said Eureka, one of the stars of HBO’s new unscripted series “We’re Here.”
The show, which follows renowned drag queens Eureka, Shangela and Bob the Drag Queen, gives drag culture a (long overdue) platform in mainstream media during a time when representation is needed most.
In the six-episode series, viewers get an inside look at drag’s human impact, as the trio, who are all producers on the project, are given a week to transform and teach their own “drag daughters” from small-town America to step outside their comfort zones for one night of a full-on drag show.
While the HBO series certainly has plenty of glitz, glam and over-the-top energy (thanks to the queens’ own creative teams, who make couture-level costumes with the highest of heels and hair), it’s the human connection that will hit home.
The show helps to reveal what it is like to be a queer person in rural American. In most of the small towns the series visits, empowering the LGBTQ community is far from the priority. In one instance, the word “freaks” is muttered when the queens arrive in town, while the cops are called in another.
However, Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka endeavor to show that the power of drag can inspire inclusivity, understanding and equality anywhere.
“It really is a power. What we found was that we were able to unearth these communities of support in conservative places. A lot are starting to evolve, there was just never safe space for all the people to come together,” said Shangela. (FN spoke to the stars ahead of Pride month, and just before Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed black people at the hands of police. Since then, they’ve all joined in on the activism supporting the movement.)
During the series, the hosts visited New Mexico, Louisana and Idaho to help local residents — including a conservative Christian mother and a misgendered LGBTQ activist — to tell their personal stories through the art of drag. And at the end of each episode, they shared a communal experience that embodied what true acceptance looks like, even in the unlikeliest of places.
When it comes to drag, the transforming process fuels confidence, according to the three queens — and the heart of every performance look is the high heel.
Just look at Bob the Drag Queen’s sci-fi-inspired ensemble in episode 4. Featuring foam armor, metallic vinyl, chromed goggles, tulle, corsetry and towering purple platforms, the costume was literally out of this world.
“A 6- or 8-inch heel with a 4-inch platform makes you the tallest person in the room,” said Bob the Drag Queen. “It gives you such a power — standing a little taller, your chin’s up higher, your butt looks great, your calves look good, your chest is out.”
Looking back on the first time Bob the Drag Queen wore heels, she recalled that picking out a pair of size 14 boots from a sex store in the West Village in New York, and even though she described the drag look as “hideous,” those shoes made her feel like the “goddamn queen of the world.”
So when these small-town participants put on high heels, some for the first time, that first step truly represents stepping into a sense of freedom.
“With our drag daughters, taking them through the process, you see how drag really does grip them and equip them with the tools they need to go on this journey of self-discovery and growth,” said Shangela. “It frees you from the societal pressure to fit in to one particular box. It is freedom from the weight of stares and people discriminating against you. In drag, I get to be and behave and perform however I want to, and it’s my choice.”
And Shangela didn’t come to play.
Shangela is known for her passionate performances and giving her all on stage, which is a sentiment Shangela passed down to her drag children. Even when cameras were not rolling, the star showed up for extra rehearsals. Plus, she came to serve looks. So when one participant asked to wear wedges, well, Shangela’s only response was a deadpan “come on, now.” The drag superstar’s own costumes were next level, like in episode 3, when Shangela hit the middle of the Bible Belt in Branson, Mo., wearing a custom red lace jumpsuit complete with matching sky-high platforms.
“I wanted them to feel their best on stage,” Shangela said. “I look at people like my mentor, Jennifer Lewis, or Beyoncé. They always deliver on stage. So I expected my drag children to walk in the same spirit of passion that I walk. This was a big moment for all of them.”
For Eureka, the sense of liberation that drag brings has been life-saving.
“Drag taught me to stop saying sorry. It taught me to stop apologizing so much for being me and allowing myself to deserve the space I’m in no matter how big that space is,” Eureka said. “It made me believe in myself like nothing else did, and it made me love my body. To me, drag is a way to survive.”
Eureka described dressing in drag as an over-exaggeration of stereotypical feminity, making heels a key component to creating that fantasy. And in episode 5, fantasy came to life for Eureka in a Mary, Queen of Scots-inspired ensemble that would give any couture fashion house a run for its money.
Though the show aired its series finale last night, its lingering message about inclusivity is more important than ever. All agreed that if there was a time to celebrate community, it is now.
“It’s important that we remember our sense of compassion and our sense of humanity. And I’m proud to be a part of a project that is speaking about just that,” said Shangela. “Remember the importance of us standing together as LGBTQ people and with our allies.”
All episodes of “We’re Here,” which has been officially renewed for second season, are available to stream on the HBO apps.