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‘Being BeBe’ Is the Inspirational Drag Documentary We Need Right Now

by Judy Bokao

IMAGE CREDIT: Being BeBe: The BeBe Zahara Benet Documentary

Being BeBe: The BeBe Zahara Benet Documentary is a crucial new film following the iconic Drag Queen’s journey from Cameroon to intentional stardom. The documentary, directed by Emily Branham and distributed by GOOD DOCS, follows the life of Marshall Ngwa, a young Cameroonian man who came to America with only one dream: to be successful. The documentary fully captures the essence of BeBe, using footage from over 15 years. It is a tale of the beginning of the dream, the struggle of the chase, the fleeting yet euphoric moments of success, and the fight to keep striving.

BeBe might be best known as the first winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2009, but their journey transcends the popular reality show. As Ngwa looks back and narrates his journey, we get to see a glimpse of who he is and the things that ground him beyond the glitz and the glam. As it turns out, it is his love for his family and the arts that keeps him going.

You can see the love that his family has for him. His sisters describe him as a gift to them and the universe. His parents only wanted him to succeed in whatever path he chose. I love that he honestly discusses the fact that it was not easy for them to accept it, but they still did. However, it was his brother’s words that almost moved me to tears. I was deeply moved with his desire to learn, understand, and adjust to his brother’s love for drag on a human level.

There are some key topics that this documentary touches on that resonated with me as a queer young woman living in Africa. Most youth in Africa will be able to relate with Ngwa and his struggle to find success in a career that many African parents may not deem fitting. There is always pressure to succeed, but it must also be a career that the parents approve of. Ngwa’s parents and family members taking on his choice to pursue drag is refreshing and a sign of hope.

The documentary delicately yet honestly addresses issues, including pervasive homophobia in Cameroon. Homosexuality is still considered a crime in Cameroon and is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. In most cases, queer Cameroonians are killed through organized mob justice attacks. The scene where gay men in Cameroon talk about their life and death situation hits close to home. It was disheartening to hear the horror tales of family members planning to kill them for being gay. In many parts of Africa, being gay is considered a betrayal and an embarrassment to your family. Family members would rather see you dead than see you living authentically as queer.

The documentary also talks about the process of learning and adapting as a Black immigrant in America and pursuing Black excellency. It is through the love and support of his friends and family that Ngwa was able to get through the setbacks in front of them. It took a lot for him to embody BeBe and put on the best drag performance every time.

BeBe’s performances are a key part of Ngwa’s queer expression. I loved that their performances show Ngwa’s African heritage and roots. BeBe didn’t give in to the demands to “Americanize “ the performances. To hear and see her fans shout Cameroon means she did a good job bringing forth the African background. BeBe, however, has broken down barriers and continues to inspire people around the world.

BeBe was given a platform and she successfully turned it into a career. BeBe understands the power in expression and being artistically vulnerable. It is one of the reasons she is one of the best drag performers in the world. She helped elevate drag to what it is now.

The documentary is more than just BeBe’s rise to fame. BeBe’s life is an inspiration to many queer youth, especially those in Africa. It is a message of hope, telling us to not only dream, but to work for it. It is a lesson on how to get back on your feet and come back stronger every time. This necessary documentary comes at a time when drag performances are being threatened with anti-LGBTQ laws. A drag queen story told with integrity is exactly the positive representation we could all use right now.

About the Author:

Judy Bokao was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.

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