As the national conversation changed dramatically in the past four years, centering the importance of amplifying underrepresented voices and cultures, it altered the context of pop culture, as well. Many unscripted programs rose to the challenge by continuously casting more inclusively — whether it be a particular season’s contestants, episode-specific subjects or series-long hosts. Through these players, the shows are able to shine an international spotlight on the immigrant experience, racial divides, prejudices and concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“From the beginning it was of the utmost importance to us to show the diversity within this country and in small towns,” says Johnnie Ingram, executive producer of HBO’s “We’re Here.”
The series, which nabbed a coveted unstructured reality program Emmy nom for its first season this year, follows three drag queens — DJ “Shangela” Pierce, Eureka O’Hara and Bob the Drag Queen — as they seek out the local LGBTQIA+ community and allies, adopt drag daughters and stage a show — all in small, rural towns across the country.
“A drag show realistically is not changing lives, but it’s opening conversations, and it’s being visible in places where you’d normally be asked to not be visible or to not talk openly about your sexuality or gender preferences,” says executive producer Steve Warren.
Starting conversations is why they welcomed a wide variety of people onto the show — from gay men and women to a trans man to the indigenous queer community in New Mexico and cisgender, straight men alike. (The show’s theme song, “I Am America,” was co-written by a trans woman, Shea Diamond.) The goal was to open hearts and minds, and it wasn’t just the locals who were changed.
“I officially have no more working tear ducts,” says Shangela. The show “inspired me in seeing all these amazing, brave, courageous children that I worked with. I said, ‘You know what? I want to have greater purpose.’”
(After the pandemic shut down venues around the country, Shangela launched the Feed the Queens program with the Actors Fund to help out-of-work drag performers with grocery bills.)
Like “We’re Here,” Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” a two-time winner in the structured program category seeing its third consecutive nom now, endeavors to open its heroes’ up to transformative experiences and conversations…