Shangela marched drag activism to Selma and beyond on We're Here season 2
Posing in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2021 — nearly 60 years after civil rights activists marched through the same spot in Selma, Ala., in the name of protecting Black Americans' right to vote — is Shangela, a queer queen who proudly stands atop the shoulders of those who came before her in sky-high stilettos and full drag.
"You think of the history of that bridge, of the trauma that bridge holds, of the significance of the moment, that so many people made the attempt to march across that bridge and were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the people who survived, the people who came back and triumphantly marched across, fighting for equality, and here we are in 2021!" the RuPaul's Drag Race alum reflects, telling EW of the moment her HBO Max makeover series We're Here arrived to film a season 2 episode in the legendary city.
"Especially as Black people [and] as LGBTQIA+ people, we're still fighting for equality, we're fighting discrimination, we're fighting for acceptance and equal treatment for all people," Shangela continues. "Standing on that bridge as a Black gay person raised in the South, as someone who'd come to that town to help amplify the voices and find a community of support for the gays there, but also as a person that understood the significance of the moment, it was very powerful."
Shangela says she and fellow hosts Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka carried that sentiment through all eight episodes of We're Here's second season, which sees the queens barreling through the American countryside (yes, again, in their cartoon cars modeled after a giant purse, an elephant, and a gift box) to give a voice — and a few freshly beaten mugs — to makeover subjects in conservative spaces. Like, for example, episode 1 subject Orin, a straight father who gives himself over to Shangela as they construct a drag show that, by its end, builds empathy and understanding for his family as they struggle to accept his gay brother.
In addition to Orin, the show chronicles the trio's work with differently abled people, trans people, those struggling to come out as nonbinary, and more. The Paris, Tex., native views the act of transforming the bodies, hearts, and minds of the lesser-seen populace (in even tinier towns) as activism in its own right, a force that can "initiate change, just by our conversations" as queer people simply live their lives.
"If you're able to walk with your head high out there in the streets and proudly say, 'I'm a gay person, I'm a queer person, and I love and support myself and others who are like me,'" Shangela says, "you are an activist in your own way, because you never know what person may see you and see how much you love and respect yourself and go, 'Oh, okay, I get it. Maybe my mind has been changed about a stereotype I had against one person or one particular community.'"
However, the gravity of their work, that they're digging deeper on season 2, shouldn't suggest that the show has become a straitlaced platform. The We're in the show's title refers to three queens who rose to prominence at the center of the most colorful show on TV, so there's an even bigger element of pomp sashaying the series' next installment forward. The trailer teases motorcycle antics, twerk-tastic stage numbers, and more, though one of Shangela's favorite moments (as she recalls with laughter) happens during the Temecula, Calif., episode, when Bob surprises the group after making herself over with heavy prosthetics on her face.
"It's wine country — [we wanted to] be bougie, like the Real Housewives of Temecula, fabulous!" Shangela says, adding that she channeled Legally Blonde's Elle Woods with her look, while Eureka dolled themself up like a character straight out of Dynasty.
"Then," she continues, "Bob got out of the car, girl, and she had the titties and the work done [on her face], I said, 'Oh, this woman is really pulling the pageant today.' It was hilarious, and we had so much fun."
It's that spirit of being able to poke fun at themselves as they hold tight drag's inherently campy spirit that drives We're Here season 2's thematic throughline home: You can't trek forward without a nod to the past.
"We were [also] playing around at the end of taping that day, and they said, 'You know what would be a great idea? Shangela, do your sugar daddy speech [from Drag Race],' and Bob was like, 'And I want you to throw the drink in my face,'" Shangela says, referring to the iconic reality show moment that saw her squaring off against fellow contestant Mimi Imfurst over accusations that her drag was bought and paid for by an older man. "I was like, 'There's no way I'm throwing a drink in your face, Bob,' and she goes, 'No, I want you to do it!' [and] we filmed it like five times, where I took the wine glass and [threw it] every time. And they'd be like, 'All right, cut. Let's clean Bob off and do it again.'"
We're Here season 2 premieres Oct. 11 on HBO Max.
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