Shea Couleé Is The Drag Icon 2020 Needs

On Saturday, Shea Coulee was crowned the latest winner of Ru Paul's drag reality competition series All Stars. We look at why the Chicago native is so deserving of the title 'The Future of Drag" as a beacon of hope for the queer community.

It’s no secret that we are big drag fans here at BRICKS. From our issue #5 ‘The Future Issue’ drag kids cover featuring Desmond is Amazing, and covers featuring Drag Race-alum Aja and Sasha Velour for issues #6 and #7 respectively, to our latest BRICKS Voices cover celebrating Pride with queer icon Peppermint and drag king Landon Cider, we have been continuously inspired by the transformative power of drag theatre and performance in all of its incarnations.

During quarantine, Ru Paul’s Drag Race has been my no.1 TV show companion – we’ve had the luxury of back-to-back seasons from Season 12 of the show’s original series, a surprise 4-episode celebrity mini-series, to the highly-anticipated All Stars 5

As a die-hard fan, All Stars is ultimate reality TV binge-worthy gold, inviting fan-favourite queens from previous seasons back for a second opportunity to snatch the crown, reveal their glow-ups and show how much they’ve grown since their first appearance.

The All Stars 5 cast was an eclectic mix of queens and has made for an exciting season full off Werk Room feuds, sickening challenges, and some truly jaw-dropping runway looks. And while seasoned past contestants such as Jujubee, Alexis Mateo and Mariah Paris Balenciaga had fans eager since the cast reveal, it was Shea Couleé who became the front-runner from the get-go. 

On Saturday night, Miss Couleé became the latest queen to be inducted into the Drag Race Hall of Fame, after an almost faultless run throughout the series. But more than just a fun character on a reality show, Shea Couleé has proven that she is the perfect embodiment of the art of drag perfected, a pioneer of where drag’s future is heading, and an inspiration for queer Black youth around the world.

In every element of the 10-episode series, Couleé excelled as she proudly represented the Black women in her life that have inspired the drag persona. In fashion, she pulled several lewks – her Nubian goddess-inspired bodysuit being a personal favourite. For the ‘Love The Skin You’re In’ challenge, Couleé drew inspiration from Botticelli’s famous painting The Birth of Venus, “but BLACK,” as she wrote on Instagram. She reinterpreted the Roman goddess Venus of love, sex, beauty, and fertility, and twisted it to celebrate her own Black body instead.

Other noteworthy lewks included a gardening ensemble inspired by British designer Richard Quinn, a caterpillar-to chrysalis-to butterfly construction for the 3-in-1 challenge, and her Balenciaga-inspired ball gown for the finale.

Expressing her comedy chops through her fashions, she also walked the runway in an R.I.P Grandrea graffiti t-shirt, making reference to a comedy challenge from her first appearance on season 9, while also representing the tradition in certain urban Black communities to honour their loved ones after passing. While the Drag Race panel did not seem to pick up on the reference, it was another opportunity Couleé saw to represent her community on the global stage. 

In her confessionals (those cut-to moments when contestants on reality TV talk through their feelings and experiences in a confession booth), she candidly spoke about her mental health and receiving therapy following the catastrophic loss she experienced as her father passed just weeks before her debut on season 9. She also spoke about her mental health after the season aired and her disappointment of not winning, dealing with the loss publicly and how it affected her confidence. Each moment we saw Couleé speak about her mental health in confessionals or with fellow contestants in the Werk Room, I was reminded of how powerful it was to see a successful, queer Black creative speak candidly and confidently about their journey with mental health on one of the world’s (or at least Netflix’s) most-watched shows. 

My drag in its purest form is a love letter to Black women.

Shea Couleé

Outside of the show, she has been a major advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ youth and trans women of colour. She has been particularly outspoken about racial equality, especially within the RuPaul’s Drag Race fandom and drag community. In October 2018, Couleé interviewed Drag Race-alum The Vixen about racism in America for the UK’s Black History Month edition of Gay Times. And just last month, Couleé participated and spoke at the Drag March for Change in support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

As she explained in an Instagram caption post-win, “My drag in its purest form is a love letter to Black women.” It’s a message that even in the reality world of Ru Paul’s creation, doesn’t shine through, with many tropes of “television-appropriate” or “mainstream” drag trends featuring Euro-centric styles of hair and clothing. And while noteworthy Black winners from seasons past, including season 8 winner Bob the Drag Queen and All Stars 4 joint-winner Monet X Change have continued to push, Couleé’s stratospheric success on the season is a further representation of Black excellence and talent in the world of drag and beyond.

Below, find a selection of Miss Couleé’s best moments on the series.

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