Saturday, June 5th, 2021

BEING BEBE | The BeBe Zahara Benet Documentary : our review


Like many other queer men, it’s been a very long time since we watched any of the multitudes of manifestations of the ubiquitous Ru Paul’s Drag Race Series.  The show has been stuck in a creative rut as it has dumbed down over the years, and it seems way past its sell-by date. However, since watching this new compelling documentary of the charismatic and genuinely talented BeBe Zahara Benet we may need to rethink it.  Not because we want to be drawn back into the TV’s superficiality, but for once realizing that behind all those over-painted faces there maybe be more ‘BeBe’s’ with touching heart-pulling stories to tell.

Newbie filmmaker Emily Branham took a shine to BeBe aka Marshall Ngwa back in 2006 before the world came to know about him.  Then the tall good-looking man from Cameron in West Africa was living in Minneapolis  Minnesota and doing amateur drag in a local gay bar. Even then he stood out as his costumes and performances were heavily immersed and inspired by his African Culture. In a city so rampant with racism  ……it was where George Flloyd was later murdered ….. BeBe was proud of his roots, even if he was reluctant to discuss his sexuality.

Then in 2009, in the second part of this rags-riches-rags rollercoaster story, he was spotted performing by Ru Paul and invited to fly to L.A. for the very first Drag Race Program.  History was made, when BeBe won the contest although even to this day he still doesn’t like to be called a Drag Queen.

The win catapulted him into a whirlwind of personal appearances, drag conventions, and performing throughout the US. He was always ambitious and was never content just doing what was expected of him as a reigning queen and always looked to expand his career opportunities.  He was the first one from Drag Race to write and record his own music and with his heavily choreographed acts with a host of backup singers and dancers, he developed a stunning show on its own.

Success had him packing up and moving to Brooklyn, but after a few years, he realized that the streets were not paved with gold.  When work dried up almost overnight, he packed up again and moved back to Minneapolis and his family for reasons never fully explained in the film.  Equally brave was allowing Branham’s cameras to capture this downward spiral of his life which seemed at the time to have no obvious path to recovery.

BeBe had been disarmingly honest throughout, which is not only a worthy character trait but speaks highly of his remarkable and refreshing attitude to life. Instead of being angry and annoyed to find himself back performing in the small local bar where he started, he uses the time and energy to re-think and restrategize his next move.

Blessed with good friends and fellow performers he leans on them to create a brand new show which turns about to be another critical success.  However, performing an expensive show in small clubs means he has no chance to re-cooperate the investment or even pay the crew all they are due.

We know by now having got a good sense of who BeBe the person is, that this will not be the end of the story  Even with COVID 19 turning his life upside down, we have enough faith to know BeBe will get through it all and come out on top.  No spoilers here, but just be relieved that you will not need a box of tissues when the final credits roll.

Watching BeBe create his craft as an artist is nothing less than inspiring.  The attention to detail and the sheer passion he invests is nothing to do with making his fortune (God forbid) but having a sense of pride and achievement.  It’s so easy to appreciate why his close-knit family are both so very proud and supportive of him.

BeBe also takes a great deal of pride in his roots and he encourages audiences to join in shouting out ‘Cameroon.’ even though back home his sexuality (which he ends up talking about) could get him imprisoned.

Getting to know Bebe closely via this film is an eye-opener that may make us re-think a little deeper about what happens to drag queens after Ru Paul has rejected or accepted them after their 5 mins in the spotlight.  It was also such a wee joy to watch. 

https://beingbebemovie.com/will have its World Premiere at 
TRIBECA Film Festival and then will be the Closing Night Gala at Provincetown Film Festival.


Posted by queerguru  at  09:06

Genres:  documentary

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