Were Here Uses Drag-tastic Stories to Explore Human Rights Issues

Would you like your social-justice messages delivered with a huge dose of glamour from three world-class drag queens? Then “We’re Here” is for you!

The premise is slyly subversive: Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka and Shangela roll into a small town in a more conservative part of the country, seek out the LGBTQ+ community and allies there to perform in a drag show, drum up publicity for it, then unleash fabulousness into the universe.

Along the way, they hear heart-wrenching stories, joyous stories, survivor stories, sad stories and infuriating stories, culminating in an empowering drag performance that can be parts happy, raunchy, poignant, sexy and always eye-popping (because there are still tons of sequins and enormous wigs). And they always come back to the importance of family — whether that’s biological or chosen or both, it’s all about that strength.

“You are the product of some strong-ass people. Celebrate who you are!” exhorts one Black woman in the Selma, Ala., episode, to the queens. Her words carry weight: She was injured in the 1965 Bloody Sunday March in the city. Just try to hold back the tears listening to these powerful women and their continued fight for civil rights.

“We’re Here” earned a nom in unstructured reality in its 2020 freshman year, but was beaten by Netflix’s “Cheer,” another show featuring great storytelling but punctuated with unbelievable feats of athletic prowess. 

In rural South Dakota, the queens meet identical twins —
one is gay, one is a straight firefighter. The straight twin shows his love and solidarity for his brother through the performance, and possibly opens some minds as well. In Hawai’i, not only do they meet gender-queer people, but they also learn about the oppression of the Indigenous Hawai’ian community, and the people fighting for change and a voice. In Grand Junction, Colo., they meet a trans woman who hasn’t seen her parents and sister since her transition and encounters a lot of prejudice. 

And surprise, they visit Temecula, Calif., Southern California wine country, but not exactly West Hollywood-left in terms of politics. While the town on the surface seems more accepting than most, a gay couple talks about micro-aggressions and sometimes macro ones, while a college student discusses how hard it is to be the perfect Filipino son with a mom who strongly disapproves of his being gay. 

What’s inspiring is that all the folks that are featured are so certain as to who they are — and despite facing homophobia, transphobia, racism and bigotry every day, they persist. 

For a series featuring drag queens, “We’re Here” seems to fly under the Emmy radar. Emmy voters can’t get enough of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka and Shangela are all “Drag Race” alumni) and “Untucked” (the reigning winner in this category). While those shows are great fun and tell great stories, “We’re Here” aims to uncover deeper truths about small-town America that are often presented through a reductive lens. “We’re Here” finds the nuances of life and diversity in Spartanburg, S.C.; Watertown, S.D.; Del Rio, Texas; and Kona, Hawai’i. 

Similar to its presumed Emmy competitors, the below-the-line team executes the storytelling to a high degree — this is, after all, an HBO show. Voters should be tempted by the series’ visuals: the direction, camerawork, and costumes and makeup. And in the needle drops, the lip-synched songs are filled with meaning. The series chronicles the time, effort and entourage of people needed to pull off a professional drag show in an often-improvised space. 

Honey, just because the queens are in the middle of Indiana doesn’t mean that they are going to scrimp on wigs. 

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