On the evening of March 9, the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University presented a screening of Emily Branham's documentary Being BeBe, the story of Nea Marshall Kudi Ngwa, a.k.a. Benet, the first winner of RuPaul's Drag Race.
The film was followed by a lively discussion and question and answer session, with Branham, BeBe Zahara Benet, and Northwestern's Dean of the School of Communication E. Patrick Johnson.
Being BeBe chronicles Ngwa's journeys from Cameroon to Minneapolis, and his evolution from an unknown to the celebrity Benet. Using old footage, as well as new footage shot by Branham, the film has Benet looking back at his beginnings and navigating his country's intolerant attitudes with the help of his accepting family, while striving to make a name for himself.
The film, which Branham spent 15 years producing, follows Benet through the highs of winning the first show as well as periods of seeming defeat and turmoil. In a country which casts an unapproving eye on the LGBTQ+ community (in the film, Benet said, "You don't even talk about it"), Benet was left with no choice but to leave.
He eventually moved to Minneapolis and New York and won on the TV show, but finds that, even with all the celebrity, there's still a lot left to be desired.
"You have a platform, but you don't have a career," Benet said in the film, which also depicts how Benet evolved as a performer while embracing an attitude that he described as, "I deserve this and I have nothing to loose."
Being BeBe had its premiere at The Tribeca Film Festival in 2021 and was broadcast in the United States and Canada in June of 2022. The film has also won prizes for best documentary at The Provincetown International Film Festival and The Sound Unseen Film and Music Festival, as well as being presented at over 35 film festivals. It is now available on major streaming services.
Branham closed by saying, "Film is a way that people can understand issues at a much more human emotional leveland that is the way minds change."