Long ago RuPaul’s Drag Race made Emmy history by pitting men in glitzy dresses, colorful wigs and fierce heels to compete to become America’s Next Drag Superstar, World of Wonder founders and maverick filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato made bold, personal films that broke down media representation barriers for gay representation broke through and reshaped how America views its LGBTQ community.
“It’s become a mission for us,” Bailey says The Hollywood Reporter about how, with swagger and success, he and his old collaborator Barbato films like Party monster And Tammy Faye’s eyes and championed self-expression and visibility for drag show performers who broke through to pop stardom.
For their art and activism, Barbato and Bailey will receive THR‘s Impact Award at the upcoming Banff World Media Festival, where they will also participate in a keynote talk led by editor-in-chief Nekesa Mumbi Moody.
If anything, Bailey is surprised that Hollywood didn’t embrace drag queens as reality TV contestants long before they emerged from raucous bars and nightclubs to prowl a growing Drag race universe led by legendary drag artist RuPaul.
After bowing to Logo in 2009, the Drag race franchise expanded to the UK, Australia, Canada and elsewhere, with local ‘queens’, song and dance numbers, catwalk challenges and backstage drama galore.
“Drag queens are the marines of television. They speak fluent television. They dance, they sing, they lip sync, they do makeup, they do hair,” Bailey stresses. But despite the international ratings success of RuPaul’s Drag Raceit’s always been a tough climb to get broadcast executives to order local versions.
“Our entire business is built on No. We’ve only had one pitch that was ever green-lit in the room, and then the next day that person called us back and said they’d changed their mind,” recalls Barbato. The result is a pitchroom strategy where the resilient co-founders must turn an early no into a final yes for success.
“Wherever (Drag race) has been on television in another country, it has been done very well. It’s just the fear of the gatekeeper who thinks his audience is too conservative or doesn’t appreciate drag,” Bailey explains.
He adds that it helps to have Barbato as a long-term business partner – WoW’s founders met at a New York University graduate film program in the 1980s – when they faced constant rejection and challenges throughout their careers. pitching projects that are all odd. and drag culture.
“Just having someone encourage you, lift you up and say, ‘It’s not as bad as you think,’ is really priceless,” Bailey points out.
Barbato adds their secret sauce to longevity in the industry by surrounding themselves with talented people: “We have so many great people working at World of Wonder and many of them for decades. We try to hire people who are smarter than us.”
Of course, there is a price for the World of Wonder duo, as the drag culture they see as empowering has led to a backlash and a flurry of anti-transgender legislation in the US. “It is the last breath of the patriarchy. It’s the politics of distraction. This is temporary. We’re moving forward. They try to back down. Forward movements always win,” argues Barbato.
The backlash against their art and activism has only fueled the creative passions at World of Wonder. “I don’t think there was ever any other choice. We have always been attracted to people who are friends or talent. It’s often been people like us, part of our tribe, kind of on the edge, on the edge. It felt like we were reporting to our service, creating opportunities for visibility,” explains Barbato.