Drama Queenz, the pioneering hit comedy web series that chronicled the lives of three African American best friends — just out of college and sharing an apartment in Queens, all aspiring to be stars on Broadway — celebrates ten fabulous years this month. The show launched in 2008 and ran for three seasons. It continues to be popular on Youtube today and is credited with helping spark a movement for gay people of color in cinema.
“We had no idea what we were doing when we started Drama Queenz,” admits Dane Joseph, one of the show’s creators. “We had no film training. I had to buy a book to help figure out the basics! The memories of my team that included Kristen Griffith and Troy Valjean Rucker learning how to work a boom and talking down police who were asking for permits we didn’t have, are some of my most cherished memories as a filmmaker. We had a passion to tell stories that weren’t being told at the time.”
The stories he means are those that detail the everyday plight of ethnic minorities within the LGBTQ community. Even today, they are rarely told. “We are so separate but equal, it’s sad,” says Dwight Allen O’Neal, creator of Christopher Street, another pioneering gay black web series that starred Dominique Jackson, Elektra Abundance from FX’s Pose. “LGBTQ people of color live within a community that is already split from mainstream but even within our community, we are separated.”
“There are very few characters in film that reflect my world,” he continues. “When we are represented in film, it’s rarely in a way we can be proud of. Pose is a notable exception and we thank Ryan Murphy and FX for it, but at the same time, gay people of color have made more contributions than Ball Room culture. It is due to groundbreaking shows like Drama Queenz that we have made huge strides towards equal representation, but so much more needs to be done.”
That’s why O’Neal joined Joseph and Daniel Armando at Novo Novus, the award winning multimedia company, that works to make content that speaks to their experience as gay men of color. (Novo is Latin for new. Novus is change). Recent releases include the award-winning short Boys Like You, and the feature films Subways, Daddy’s Boy, and this summer’s break-out film festival smash, The Breeding.
The studio has also produced the stage play Reflections in a Ditch, and Fade In, a documentary about homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City. Each project is meant to present a new perspective on gay people of color and is intended to inspire change. “I constantly have to remind myself of the responsibility we have as producers, writers, and directors to keep championing our own people,” explains Daniel Armando. “Because if we don’t produce projects with us in mind, who will?”
He says what binds O’Neal, Joseph and he together is a shared passion to incite dialogue around uncomfortable topics like mental health, race, religion and even love. “These aren’t stories about people struggling with being queer,” he clarifies. “We’re focused on larger issues of society like social injustice and toxic masculinity. We’re trying to get people to think differently with stories that relate to everyone. We’re students of the craft and always looking to grow and improve.”
Not just artistically; the Novo Novus team are also developing innovative ways that keep costs down and get their products out. “One thing we learned from Drama Queenz is to create content that translates to multiple platforms,” says Joseph. “It’s important that we be wherever our viewers seek content.”
“We are proud that the internet has kept Drama Queenz alive and strong for so long. It’s likely due to the fact after a decade, there still isn’t much content for queer people of color. But we are working to change that!”