Arts·Here & Queer

Fenton Bailey on his new book, Britney Spears and the worldwide domination of Drag Race

The World of Wonder founder stopped by Here & Queer to talk his decades of TV and film work making the world a more fabulous place for queer folks.

The World of Wonder founder talks about his decades of work producing and directing LGBTQ film and TV

Producer, filmmaker and author Fenton Bailey on the set of Here & Queer.
Producer, filmmaker and author Fenton Bailey on the set of Here & Queer. (CBC Arts)

Here & Queer is an interview series hosted by Peter Knegt that celebrates and amplifies the work of LGBTQ artists through unfiltered conversations.

Fenton Bailey has seen it all. That much is especially clear in his essential new book ScreenAge.  Over a 30 year career, the producer, director and founder of the LGBTQ-focused media company (empire?) World of Wonder, Bailey has worked with everyone from RuPaul, Britney Spears, Monica Lewinsky and Tammy Faye Bakker. He's made films or series about everyone and everything: Andy Warhol, OJ Simpson, the Statue of Liberty, televangelists, Club Kids, rent boys (and that's barely scratching the surface). He's also, of course, one of the people primarily responsible for turning RuPaul's Drag Race into a worldwide franchise and phenomenon.

It goes without saying that we felt extremely honoured to have him come by the Here & Queer set to talk about his new book, Drag Race and the state of LGBTQ representation (among other things). You can watch the full episode below:

"World of Wonder has redefined what mainstream is, and that changes the world," Graham Norton writes of Bailey and his company (which he co-founded with Randy Barbato) in the foreward to ScreenAge. "Marginalized people are that because they exist on the edges. The television that World of Wonder makes shifts our gaze and puts everyone on the main stage. As Fenton said when collecting his GLAAD Award in 1997: 'Until we embrace the zaniest, freakiest and gayest among us, there can be no fairness.'"

Bailey's book goes a long way in showing how far we've come in terms of that very things — and how far we have to go. The genesis of him deciding to write it, at least practically speaking, had a lot to do with him having so much downtime during COVID lockdowns. 

"We were shooting Drag Race Down Under and Drag Race UK," he says. "And so every time we went, I had to spend two weeks locked away, like literally locked away. I mean, they took it really seriously in Auckland. You could not leave your room. So that was sort of the impetus."

The cover of Fenton Bailey's book, ScreenAge.
The cover of Fenton Bailey's book, ScreenAge. (Ebury Press)


But it also had to do with how much Bailey had been thinking about television, and how attacked it generally has been as a medium of good.

"There have been so many books about how awful TV," he says. "I just felt as someone who's made my living in TV that I don't have this feeling that it's ruined everything. I then began to think about it and actually sort of came to conclusion that TV has completely changed our lives and changed who we are in a really fundamental way. And why not say that and not let all these intellectuals carry the day with their bitter rants against television."

One of the many TV-related topics discussed in ScreenAge is the global impact of Drag Race, a franchise Bailey sheperded with RuPaul and Barbato.

"My dream countries [to bring Drag Race to] are Iran or Iraq or Russia," he says. "And in fact, I said as much and Breitbart picked it up and said I was going to get beheaded. But you know, people say, 'oh, there's just so many versions of Drag Race.' And I hope there's more because I think that what the show does at its heart is it it inspires people, gay or straight, to have more empathy for people who are not like them. It does so in a way that's so joyful and fun and hopefully irresistible. It's like, why would you resent this person who looks so fabulous and is so funny and is so creative and talented, you know? So hopefully that's what the show does."

It definitely does, as does Bailey himself.

Fenton Bailey's book ScreenAge: How TV Shaped Our Reality, From Tammy Faye to RuPaul's Drag Race is now available wherever books are sold. The fourth season of Canada's Drag Race debuts on Crave on November 16th.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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