Bob the Drag Queen Talks Dave Chappelle, 'We're Here''s Stop in Selma

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 22, 2021

"RuPaul's Drag Race" alum Bob the Drag Queen — one of a trio of drag artists who star in HBO's docuseries "We're Here" — opened up about Dave Chappelle's controversial Netflix special "The Closer," telling Deadline that despite Chappelle's moving words about a trans friend lost to suicide, the popular comic doesn't seem to understand his own role in "perpetuating violence towards trans people."

Deadline drew a contrast between Chappelle's set, which included content some have decried as homophobic and transphobic, with his own series, which co-stars fellow "Drag Race" alums Shangela and Eureka O'Hara. In the series, the three travel to conservative small towns, where they mentor local LGBTQ+ residents and help them prepare for a one-night-only show of drag pageantry.

An upcoming episode finds the three in Selma, Alabama, the location of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which is the site of the 1965 incident known as Bloody Sunday, when voting rights marchers were beaten by local sheriff's deputies and Alabama state troopers. Images from the incident "galvanized the civil rights movement," Deadline recalls.

The episode features an emotional meeting between the show's stars and several women who had been at the 1965 march and had been beaten. Bob the Drag Queen, who lived for a time in Selma, is visibly overcome with emotion as he converses with the voting rights marchers.

Talking with Deadline, Bob the Drag Queen drew a bright contrast between the "We're Here" episode and "The Closer," saying that he had been moved "just being around these remarkable people who had directly affected my trajectory as a Black person" and calling them "deeply inspirational on a thousand levels."

Chappelle, the drag artist said, "is a comedian and his main goal is to get people to laugh. But there was maybe a lack of acknowledgement that there are Black queer people" in the material Chappelle presented in "The Closer."

"He would talk about the Black movement versus the queer movement, as if they are not intertwined, as if there are not a lot of queer people who are part of the Black Lives Matter movement," Bob the Drag Queen went on to say. "As we know, Black Lives Matter was started by a lesbian. He talks about the queer movement as if there are no Black people in it, but what about Marsha P. Johnson and Dr. Angela Davis?"

"The Closer" prompted at least one openly trans content creator — "Dear White People" executive producer Jaclyn Moore — to sever ties with the streamer. One Netflix employee was fired for disclosing financial information about the special; that same employee was reportedly also the person who organized the Oct. 20 walkout by an estimated 30 Netflix employees. Those participants joined about 100 protestors on the street in front of the streamer's Los Angeles headquarters.

Despite the controversy, Netflix has stood by Chappelle and "The Closer," with co-chief executive officer and chief content officer Ted Sarandos brushing off the controversy, saying that "content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm."

Calling Chappelle's influence "wide, vast, and undeniable," Bob the Drag Queen expressed a different point of view. The "We're Here" star said that when Chappelle "comes forward and feels it is appropriate to make fun of trans people, a lot of his followers just agree with him..."

"It's one of those things where I wish Dave Chappelle could acknowledge his hand in perpetuating violence towards trans people."

The "RuPaul" veteran underscored Chappelle's mixed messages with regard to the LGBTQ+ community, telling Deadline, "There are times he will get very close to providing insight, without making fun of queer people or trans people. And then he ends his special with, 'stop punching down on my people,' as if trans people were somehow punching down on the Black community, and as if there were not Black people within that community."

"It's just really odd false equivalency," Bob added.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.