The only thing criminal about HBO's We're Here is the dangerously good looks of its drag queen stars. While it should be illegal to look as good as Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela, and Eureka rocking wigs and stilettos, the reality for season 3 of their Emmy-winning, road-tripping makeover docuseries is that conservative politicians are actually trying to ban their craft in the rouge-iest of the red states in small-town America — but the RuPaul's Drag Race alums aren't going down without a fight.
"They're more vocal and more visible in their hatred. There's a brazenness to it that we didn't really experience to a large degree in the past," co-creator Stephen Warren tells EW of filming new episodes in areas with predominantly conservative demographics. For that reason, he says the upcoming stretch — as well as the impact the queens stand to make — marks "the most important season to date" in the show's three-year history, following the queens as they doll-up a new batch of townsfolk (both queer and straight) from southern states all the way up to Utah, where their ideals clash with a local councilwoman attempting to thwart the series from shooting in a family oriented park.
Just as the hostile landscape of the nation shifted, so, too, did the show's approach to capturing it on camera. While Warren isn't ready to reveal all the changes season 3 has in store, he promises that the format will adapt "to account for and document what's happening" across the country.
Greg Endries/HBO Shangela, Eureka and Bob the Drag Queen at a 'Just Say Gay' rally in Brevard County, Florida, in protest of the 'Don’t Say Gay' bill.
"Things won't be the same as they were in the past," he explains, stressing that the core of what makes the show work (makeovers, drag shows, repeat) remains intact. "You get to feel the joys and the pain, because there's an exuberance and joyfulness in drag, for having people see you for who you are. We're highlighting that as much as possible, but it's juxtaposed against heightened hatred, discrimination, and paranoia."
There was perhaps no better place to begin the healing journey than Central Florida. Though the exact order of episodes has yet to be determined, before moving to St. George, Utah, Granbury, Texas, Jackson, Miss, and Sussex County, N.J., the production first filmed at the "ground zero for hate that's bred in the country," Warren says. The queens visit villages throughout Florida, roll through Kissimmee, and ultimately pick up in Orlando, where a mass shooter killed 49 people at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub, in June 2016.
"We have a Pulse survivor as one of our drag kids," Warren reveals, noting that the subject's story intertwines with others involving the state's controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill. "His transformation is jaw-dropping. He had multiple friends die that night. Pulling his life back together and doing this show is a major moment in his life. He's phenomenal."
The participant is one of many that Warren cites as a growing army of resistors, who are "more empowered than ever" with "heightened passion" as they work to combat the growing opposition to their identities on levels both social and political.
Everett Collection Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka, and Shangela on 'We're Here' season 3.
"It's so important to get the message out now, that drag can heal," Warren continues, pointing to an experience he had while filming. Though he's terrified by the rise in anti-LGBTQ sentiment, he's hopeful that a project like We're Here can, on some small level, inspire others to keep fighting. He recalls a particularly moving moment that happened during production, where a tiny (but no less vocal) band of allies showed up to a town hall meeting to push back against the local government's drive to halt the show's progress.
"Person after person spoke to say, 'Drag saves lives,'" Warren finishes. "This show will save lives."