As of March 2016, you can still be fired from your job due to your sexual orientation in 28 US states.
"How is this possible?" exclaims Bianca Del Rio, the drag queen persona of actor, comedian, and costume designer Roy Haylock. As she speaks, her distinctive electric crackle of a voice hits an expressive peak. "Everyone's talking about gay marriage, but you can live your life without being married to someone. You can't live your life without a job—you have to work. Knowing where we are in 2016, being fired for your sexual orientation is kind of insane."
Indeed, promoting awareness of gaps in LGBTQ equality is still Bianca Del Rio's paramount concern—and it's the central narrative focus of her feature film debut, Hurricane Bianca, which is released today in theaters and on VOD. The comedy centers on NYC-based science teacher Richard Martinez (Haylock, sans drag), who takes a job at a small-town Texas high school, only to lose it after the school's principal discovers his sexual orientation. After drowning his sorrows at a local drag revue with the help of some friends (including fellow real-life drag queens Shangela and Willem), Richard becomes Bianca and returns to disrupt the school's backward values and exact revenge.
"It's a serious topic done in a fun way," Del Rio said, which deftly mixes her acidic wit (she nicknames one student "Bathmat" because she "smells like feet") and a surprising sweetness that attempts to find hope past the hatred. "Sometimes you have to go to a really bad place to get to a better place," as she puts it.
Featuring performances and cameos from Rachel Dratch, Alan Cumming, Margaret Cho, and RuPaul (appearing out of drag as a weatherman), Hurricane Bianca is a fun, frothy slice of entertainment that should appeal both to longtime fans and viewers of RuPaul's Drag Race, which Del Rio won the sixth season of in 2014. It's a film that isn't shy to be didactic—a message film, almost explicitly so—but it's careful to walk the line between camp and compassion without going too full-tilt in either direction. "I didn't want to make some sappy, serious, preachy film," Del Rio firmly states. "Gay movies are usually suicidal and depressing, or ridiculously campy. We fall in between the two, and the situations it addresses [in this country] are real. Something needs to happen." A condensed and edited version of our interview follows below.
VICE: Do you feel like recent progress made on LGBTQ issues in America overshadows the fact that there's still a lot more work that needs to be done?
Bianca Del Rio: Totally. We've come a long way—I mean, I'm sitting here in a hotel, talking to you as a drag queen—and it's great that people are even interested [in the causes]. But we get stuck on one particular thing—as I was saying, marriage was the big thing for a minute—when, as a whole, there's a lot [more to be done]. That's why I thought it was important to make the movie. And as we've seen in America right now with the whole Trump situation, ignorance is bliss.
Something that I found striking about the film is that you play characters both in and out of drag—and they're both fully realized and fleshed out.
It was more challenging for me to play Richard, because it was acting. I'm used to being Bianca, and people want to see Bianca because they know what she is—they identify with it. During screenings, I've seen the setup leading to Bianca's entrance, and I'm sitting on pins and needles going, "Do they like it?" But once she comes in, it makes sense, because this guy is living a normal life, but he's treated so badly that it makes him seek revenge on these idiots—in real life, I'd probably just go tell them to fuck themselves.
Richard's a gay man who's passionate about what he does, and the one big roadblock is that he's gay. There are people out there who can't do what they love to do because of some fucked-up law. It was challenging for me to put myself in his shoes, because I get to do what I want to do and say what I want to say. That's a struggle for him.
You grew up in Louisiana. What were your experiences like there?
I wish I had a sad story, but I don't. Too many gay people have a sad story. I was always told I was different and called a "fag" before I was necessarily gay, and that set me on a path toward surrounding myself with people who made me feel better. I see the people who teased me on Facebook, and they look like hell. I'm fortunate that, in real life, I love what I do and get to celebrate it.
You're often referred to as an "insult comic," and there's been a shifting attitude in recent years regarding what you can and can't say in comedy, especially on social media. How do you feel about that?
I think people are stupid. They need to lighten the fuck up. Everything is not serious. If you don't like what I'm saying, change the channel—don't look at me, don't buy a ticket. You either get it or you don't, and it's fascinating because it's usually intelligent people with a sense of humor who get it. Or drunk people! Drunk people have been very supportive of my career for eight years.
Drag Race has made drag culture more visible on a national level than ever before.
Ru just won an Emmy—how insane is that? I think having a television show that deals with drag queens in the beginning was a little off-putting to people, but for 70 percent of the show, we're not in drag. They see who we are as people. Everybody has a different story—some are sad, some are happy, and it's our way to express ourselves. It's the same thing with cosplay—go put on a costume, run around, and have a good time if you're sitting in a cubicle every day. Get some stress out, motherfucker! Look at SantaCon, these drunk white boys dressed as Santa, having a good time. That's no different than being a drag queen—well, we get paid, but it's mostly the same thing.
I have to tell you, the majority of my audience is straight women. They're there with their girlfriends to have a good night—or with their husbands, who in the end are saying, "That bitch is funny!" It opens people's minds, which is amazing.
Drag Race also highlights how tight-knit and supportive the drag community can be toward one another.
When I first auditioned for the show, I had an idea of what the [contestants] were going to be, and it wasn't a positive one—but I thought, What do I have to lose? But it's very rare when you stand there with a bunch of people who have been through the same experiences. I don't want to use that word "sisterhood," but we've been through this process—we know how it works. I like to surround myself with people who are hardworking and talented, and we help one another out.
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