Emily Branham’s first feature documentary Being Bebe roars into Pride Month on June 7th on Video on Demand and will make its Broadcast Premiere on Fuse in the U.S. and OUTtv in Canada on June 21st.
The documentary had its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival last year, and went on to screen at over 30 festivals on four continents (with seven opening night/closing night/centerpiece placements, an audience award at Provincetown and jury award at Sound Unseen for Best Documentary).
Being BeBe intimately charts 15 years of drag performer Marshall Ngwa (aka BeBe Zahara Benet): An immigrant to America from homophobic Cameroon, first champion on now-iconic LGBTQ+ reality show phenomenon RuPaul’s Drag Race. Grounded by Marshall’s present-day narration, the film features vérité, interviews and performances illustrating his journey to Queer Black Excellence.
From his COVID-standstill in Minneapolis, Marshall watches and reacts vibrantly to sequences that Branham filmed with him over the years. Like everyone in Minneapolis, he grieves the tragedy of George Floyd. Just months before, 2020 was poised to be BeBe’s “breakthrough year,” with a new TV show, music album and live show – until the pandemic hit. The clips unfurl a time capsule: His early days as a promising amateur drag performer in the Minneapolis clubs, to his time living in New York City and shows he creates there, and his family backstory and immigrant narrative. Througout the film, we also meet LGBTQ+ youth and activists in Cameroon, where Queer rights remain in the dark ages. They’ve never heard of BeBe and are baffled by the concept of drag being a viable career. Yet they are mesmerized when seeing BeBe on smartphone screens.
In Being BeBe, Marshall’s staggering effort is apparent years before his RuPaul’s Drag Race win in 2009 when there was no blueprint then for turning his new platform into an actual career. The opportunities and whirlwind in the 2020s bring a resurgence to BeBe’s languishing career. By now, lessons have been learned, and Marshall embraces his whole self. When unimaginable setbacks put everything on hold again in 2020, Marshall recognizes the predicament. He’s been there before and has the self-determination to rise again.
“I’ve had the privilege of following Marshall (BeBe) for 15 years since meeting him in 2006 in Minneapolis,” said director Emily Branham. “While the pageant scene was fascinating, I could tell that BeBe was poised for greater things. Fortunately, BeBe was open to letting me in, and our friendship deepened. The look and feel of the film are raw, honest and textured much like Marshall’s life. The story never shies away from his failures, so much so that his successes come with an air of victorious sweetness. Over time, I’ve become deeply cognizant of the ethical dilemmas that come with telling someone else’s story, especially as a White woman turning the lens on a Black Queer African immigrant. I’ve stayed the course because I’m absolutely committed to making sure this film does BeBe’s story justice. As I documented Marshall’s life over the years, I witnessed his unprecedented path of Queer Black Excellence. His story will inspire people who are disenfranchised to keep reaching for their dreams – something audiences need now more than ever.”
Watch a trailer for Being Bebe.