Knowing your queer history is essential, and the documentary film, When The Beat Drops, offers an immersive deep-dive inside the growing culture of bucking—an energetic, hyper-athletic, dance phenomenon cultivated by queer people of color in the Deep South.
We caught up with Jamal Sims, seasoned choreographer, RuPaul’s Drag Race Live director, and the director of the award-winning film, about the impact that film has had on him, the community it spotlights, and why it’s a must-see for everybody.
What was something surprising that happened when you were filming When the Beat Drops?
I thought I was doing a documentary on dance, because that’s my background as a choreographer, but filming took 5 years! I realized that we were telling a story much greater than just dance–it was more about these guys’ experiences, being gay black males in Atlanta, and in the South. We covered so many different things. I originally wanted to a dance documentary, so it all just surprised me. The dancing is there, absolutely, but their stories are really what take you in.
Why do you think fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race need to see When the Beat Drops?
Well besides the fact that Drag Race fans have amazing taste, they’ll love it because they get invested into the characters of the show, and When the Beat Drops has almost the same format. You get amazing entertainment, but then you also get to dive into the lives of some people that you may not have ever gotten to know if you lived in another part of the world.
Why does the film need to be seen by the masses?
We have to learn about each other in order to empathize with each other. Sometimes we fear the things that we don’t know about. When the Beat Drops shows a community that is still thriving in Atlanta, and I think that people need to learn about the different types of communities. When you learn about people, you stop being fearful and learn to accept them for exactly for what they are. Knowledge is power, and we need to be educated in these times.
How has the experience been like having directed the film, having it be released, and then seeing it fully realized?
I thought filming was only going to take a year, but it ended up taking 5 years to finish the documentary, so what I realized is that things that are worth doing can take time. And I didn’t mind taking the time to get things right; it was a passion project of mine. There were times where we could have put the film out, but I felt like we still didn’t have the story. I’m glad we took the time to get it right, because when we released it, the responses were so positive – even when it’s just one person who says “this movie changed my life,” that’s good enough for me. It makes me super proud.
Many have drawn parallels to what voguing was to the ballroom scene as what bucking is to the South. Do you think that’s accurate?
I think there are similarities there. They are both communities of LGBTQIA+ people, and the way that they both came up are similar. The ballroom scene was created because this community in New York wanted to be able to represent fashion, in a similar way that these guys wanted to do this particular style of dance that only the women of the HBCU’s (historically black colleges and universities) were able to do in the South. Out of necessity, they both created their own communities. That’s the comparison. but the dancing is different, and so is the energy!
When the Beat Drops is being streamed on WOW Presents Plus during unprecedented times. Do you think the film offers a message that’s more important than ever to those who watch it in this moment in history?
Definitely, I think that the message of the film is: we will get through this. We all fall on dark times, but if we persist, we will get to see the brighter day. These guys went through hard times, but they were able to live their passions no matter what anybody said and still be able to shine. We have to take this time to know that it is dark right now, but there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
Did directing When the Beat Drops prepare you in any way for directing RuPaul’s Drag Race Live?
Yeah it did! I think drag queens, like some of the cast in When the Beat Drops, have gone through a lot prior to this moment in time. They’ve gone through being teased and being bullied, among other hardships. I wanted to be able to give the cast of the film the opportunity and platform to shine, and spotlight them to make them feel seen and like the star that they are. I was able to take that goal and do that with RuPaul’s Drag Race Live. This is the first time drag queens are headlining the Flamingo as themselves, without being impersonators. From my experience with the film, I understood the importance of making our queens feel like they’ve arrived–and they have! The culture has all eyes on us, and it shows with all the awards RuPaul’s Drag Race has won. People love the spirit of the gay community right now, and it’s amazing.
When the Beat Drops has won so many awards! What was the best experience so far coming out of creating this documentary?
Showing up to the Frameline Festival at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco! It was our second award. We had won in Miami and that was totally amazing; it was the first festival that we entered and that was incredible. But when we showed up to San Francisco at the oldest theatre in the Castro district, there was a line wrapped around one side, all the way down the block and around the corner, and on the other side wrapped around the corner. I thought that these people were there for another movie, but no…they were there for When the Beat Drops! I was like “what?” We sold out that theatre, and my mom and dad were there, and so was Anthony, a lead in the film. Just to see him go on stage and to feel the love that everybody gave him was the best feeling ever.
What can people expect from you in the near future? Any projects?
Yes! I am directing my first feature film, and I can’t say the name yet…everything got put on hold, but it’s exciting to be stepping into feature films. That’s what next for me!
Get ready! When the Beat Drops is coming to WOW Presents Plus on April 8th, so be sure you’re subscribed here.