'RuPaul’s Drag Race' superstar BeBe Zahara Benet spills the tea
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The hit American television reality show "RuPaul’s Drag Race" has captivated audiences across the world for just over 11 years and has garnered something of a cult following.
The show’s main quest, which is to find America’s next drag superstar, who must possess just the right amount of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, is a beautiful portrayal of the art of drag.
In an exclusive interview, ANA caught up with "RuPaul’s Drag Race" season one winner, BeBe Zahara Benet, who just so happens to be from Cameroon.
During the Zoom interview, BeBe admitted that she has never been to South Africa and would really like to visit the country.
We asked BeBe a few questions about life, drag, the Black Lives Matter movement and what’s next on the horizon for her.
How are you doing during this time we find ourselves in, with the pandemic and quarantine and all?
“I’m holding up as best I can, trying to stay healthy, keeping my mind creative among the craziness.
“This was meant to be such a big year, especially with the release of my EP. I was supposed to be on tour with Nubia.
“The whole place was already booked, but of course due to the pandemic, things have been placed on hold for now.
“I’ve been writing a lot of music stuff during this time, as well as doing decor and design, virtual consultations, just been keeping my mind occupied and very creative during this time.
"I’ve also been cooking a lot as well. I love fried rice, I just made my own concoction.
It has been 11 years since you won the inaugural "RuPaul’s Drag Race" competition. How has the journey been so far?
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride, but in a lot of good ways.
“No artist will tell you that there are no challenges. What I can say, though, what was great about winning the show was that it gave me a bigger platform to speak.
“It’s been a beautiful experience being able to travel, meet different people, different races, cultures, points of view, and just connect with people, hearing their stories and entertaining them.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience. I’m a people lover – that’s what makes it worth it.
“But I always say that while 'Drag Race' is amazing, it gave me a platform, but it didn’t give me a career.”
BeBe told ANA that prior to the competition she had already started a brand for herself.
“'Drag Race' doesn’t give you a career. It gives you a platform.
“Now I have this great platform, it’s important to create your own opportunity and not wait for anyone to create opportunities for you. It takes a lot of hard work.
"I remember when we started the first season of 'Drag Race', it was very unknown, not many people really caught on. It was pretty much trial and error. You have to keep working, there’s no time to be lazy.”
I see you’re very vocal on social media regarding Black Lives Matter. What does the movement mean to you?
“With regards to Black Lives Matter (BLM), I feel that we still need to have a lot of conversations around it.
“I feel there is still a lot of ignorance. People are still uneducated when it comes to the black movement.
"Then again, conversations can only go so far, we need to be proactive as well.
"We need to ask the questions, what are you doing for equality and being proactive, especially if you find yourself in a position of power?
"What can you do, in the position that you are?
“What are you doing to create change, what changes are you making at your jobs, around family dinners?
“Every single person can do something to make the movement move forward and shift the conversation."
Tell the readers more about the Nubia tour, which celebrates opulence, regality and pure, unadulterated black excellence.
“The Nubia tour came about after I noticed that there wasn’t as much representation of black people performing at shows, etc.
“A lot of people would send me messages asking why are you not taking part in particular tours.
“Nubia was not for black people; it's by black people for everybody. It’s an experience that allows you to come to a space, what we choose to be and not what we’re told to be.
“What if I don’t want to be portrayed as the African queen? Nubia is about everyone.
“What we wanted to show the audience was what we believe black excellence, the glamour, the stories and the entertainment was.
"We did our showcase, we sold out three nights. Many say black girls are unable to sell out venues.
“I always say: if you create the opportunity, everybody will come.
“Our gifts are given to us by a higher power, we cannot allow people to take control of our gifts. Nubia is about all the girls taking part in producing the show.
"I feel that culture is loved by everyone. People love culture and authenticity."
What do you think winning "RuPaul’s Drag Race" back in 2009 did for LGBTQI+ persons in Cameroon and Africa as a whole?
“I do believe that me winning or having this incredible platform has given people encouragement and an opportunity for people to come forward and celebrate themselves – this is who I am. Drag is a form of entertainment, it’s my work and craft.
"I feel that by me winning 'RuPauls’ Drag Race', it brought a lot of awareness about Africa and the beauty from where we come from. Hopefully, it put Cameroon people on the map.
“The younger generation is willing to take risks, live out loud. They want to be able to express themselves in whatever way they want to express themselves.
“I remember growing up and seeing someone doing drag, we always thought they’re gay.
“But I realised that we are just artists. Doing drag doesn’t define my orientation.
"I feel that my winning 'RuPaul’s Drag Race' and also being all the way from Africa gave people the audacity to just be themselves, all while encouraging and inspiring many people back home.
"I would love to have an African drag race, but I feel that it’s important that we even just do shows in Africa.
“We have to go back home to create visibility and opportunity back home."
Tell us more about your television show, "Dragnificent!".
"'Dragnificent!' is a transformation show. It's four artists that have different specialities.
“We come to bring some joy, some light into the lives of people who need it most.
“We go to little parts of the country and meet all these women that are going through an unpleasant time in their life, and we just come to bring some love and joy.
"I always tell people that we don’t come in as therapists, we come in with our own stories, and sometimes that can help someone else.
"I get to show you the other side of BeBe. The decor, design and event planning, I bring that other skill set to the table.
"Basically, you get to see us in a different light, you get to see our personalities, and that is what I love about the show.
If you could have tea with anyone, dead or alive, who would that be?
“There isn’t one person that I can choose, but there are a few that have really impacted my career and life, the likes of Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Grace Jones, Josephine Baker, Beyoncé, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Angélique Kidjo, Miriam Makeba.
"I’ve been listening to Zonke a lot lately, I love her.
"Furthermore, I’m inspired by my mom. If I have to choose one person, I’d rather not go to tea with anyone.
“I would not be the whole person that I am today if I didn't have those influences."
What advice do you have for the little girl or boy who identifies as different or might feel like an outcast in society?
"Firstly, nobody has the power to call anyone an outcast. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, little boy or girl.
"Everybody is born with a purpose and that is to keep the human race moving.
"I’d have to say that you are special, everyone is special, everyone comes with a role to play.
“You have a part to play in humanity. When you are not here, that part is missing. Don’t ever forget that.
"I have learnt that I have to tell myself that I belong, that I am beautiful. I always tell myself.
"I am my own best cheerleader, don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong.
"People always ask me, how did you grow up to be so confident? I tell them, I always look in the mirror and say I belong, you are so beautiful and you are meant to be here.
"I would like to encourage people to open their minds and hearts, there are a lot of girls and boys in Africa like me.
"I’m challenging people to receive these gifts back home. There are a lot of BeBe Zahara Benets in Africa.
“It’s important that our continent can move forward, and respect diversity."
African News Agency (ANA)