Apr 26, 2024 - News

HBO series "We're Here" brings famous drag queens to Tennessee

Three drag queens strike poses on the steps outside the Tennessee Capitol.

Drag queens Sasha Velour, Jaida Essence Hall and Priyanka of "We're Here" outside the Tennessee Capitol. Photo: Greg Endries/HBO

A squad of famous drag queens traveled to Tennessee last year after the state embraced new measures that targeted drag performances and the LGBTQ+ community.

Why it matters: Their visit is the centerpiece of the fourth season of the HBO docuseries "We're Here," which premieres Friday night. The show follows them as they stage performances and give local residents drag makeovers that double as journeys of self-discovery.

  • The cast also stopped by the Tennessee Capitol in feathers and sequins and talked with state Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville).

Flashback: Last year, Tennessee was the first state in the nation to enact a law designed to restrict drag performances. Republican lawmakers framed it as an effort to protect children.

  • A federal judge later ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

What they're saying: "Your beautiful state, which is truly gorgeous, got quite a bad rap in the last couple of years for passing these pretty backwards laws," "We're Here" star Sasha Velour tells Axios.

  • But Velour, who shot to fame after winning a season of "RuPaul's Drag Race," says they encountered a kind and generous community while filming.
Drag queens pose with Rep. Justin Jones in the Tennessee House chamber.
Drag queens Jaida Essence Hall, Sasha Velour and Priyanka pose with state Rep. Justin Jones in the Tennessee House chamber. Photo: Greg Endries/HBO

Zoom in: Multiple episodes of "We're Here" focus on the drag queens' visit to Murfreesboro, where officials tried to block a Pride festival, spurring a costly legal fight.

The intrigue: "My preconceptions about what coming to a quote-unquote red state was going to be like were really exploded by my time spent there," says Velour, who came back after filming to participate in BoroPride, which was ultimately allowed to move forward.

  • "The thing that surprised me was how many people there were just like me, who have the same hopes and dreams, the same passions and hobbies, and just want to be able to live as freely as everyone else gets to in the town."

The big picture: LGBTQ+ Tennesseans who spoke with the "We're Here" cast described discrimination and fear as fixtures in their daily lives.

  • Velour says the show offers a counter-argument to high-profile fights against drag and the LGBTQ+ community.

"There's nothing more American than the freedom to express yourself," Velour says.

  • "We're part of the fabric of the world and we always have been. We don't want to hurt anyone. We just want to spread a little happiness in the world."

The bottom line: Velour says "We're Here" uses its drag makeovers as a way to help people realize their potential and break past their own perceived limitations.

  • "It may seem like it's a makeover show, but it's really not. It's using drag as one of the best ways for people to tell their own story."

How to watch: The first episode of the fourth season debuts at 9pm ET/8pm CT Friday on HBO and will be available to stream on Max.

  • New episodes will be released weekly.
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