RuPaul Schools LL Cool J On Drag Culture In This Groundbreaking 'In The House' Flashback
"In the House" may have been far more progressive than we give it credit.
A recently resurfaced episode of In the House shows RuPaul teaching LL Cool J all about drag in the '90s.
HuffPost reports writer and YouTube host Matt Baume brought the old-school episode from the vaults in a new segment of his "Culture Cruise" series. Throughout the web series, he analyzes important milestones in entertainment over the past few decades.
The successful comedy show featured LL Cool J in the character of Marion Hill. In the House ran from 1995 to 1999.
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If you're too young to recall this hit show, it made waves alongside shows like Moesha and Malcolm and Eddie after moving from NBC to UPN. Smith played Marion Hill, a retired NFL player of the Oakland Raiders. Due to financial struggles, the NFL star rents two of the rooms in his home to a recently divorced mother, Jackie Warren (played by Debbie Allen), and her children, Tiffany (Maia Campbell) and Austin (Jeffery Wood).
The flashback moment aired in the show's outstanding debut season.
In the “Boyz II Men II Women" episode which aired on December 4, 1995, Baume explains that the prime-time show mirrored what was also occurring within everyday conversation around drag and gay culture. While other writers often mocked the lifestyle, the writers on this show took a different approach.
By this time, RuPaul Andre Charles had already become a household name following his Supermodel of the World album two years earlier. The album gained widespread notoriety thanks to the hit single, “Supermodel (You Better Work).” At the time, drag was transitioning from being a hidden, shunned activity to being thrust front-and-center into popular culture.
In the clip, RuPaul acts as Marion's friend, Kevin. Baum suggests that many of his fans' were seeing him for the first time without hair and makeup. Most may not have realized it was the superstar singing model and actress until the big reveal.
Kevin is visiting his friend from Europe and shares that he's "been considering a new career," but Marion remains largely oblivious. Finally, the 6'4" star gets caught looking fabulous down and dragged up by one of Marion's new roommates, Jackie. The reaction is shockingly positive.
Once the news gets back to his newly unemployed friend, a conversation ensues that is rare for even today's television. The theme of the show breaks down gender roles and norms associated with one's attire. It also encourages audiences to reconsider their understanding of drag culture, as Kevin admits to Marion that he is still attracted to women.
Additionally, Marion doesn't react stereotypically averse to his friend's sexuality but challenges his decisions, openly admitting his discomfort with a man wearing commonplace female clothes.
"I consider wearing a dress just part of my job, just like a cop wears a uniform," Kevin explains. "It's fun. I'm my own boss, I get to travel and let's face it: I look damn good."
Drag, in this instance, doesn't become the joke of the day. Instead, RuPaul's character is the one who sparks laughter based upon his real-life experiences and how he interprets those around him for the choices he's made.
Marion gets called out as a hypocrite from Jackie and Tiffany, and the episode's two lead actors later hash out their issues when the "I Need Love" rapper's character shows up to his friend's drag show.
Of course, the episode has its issues, as Baum points out, but it was one of the first steps toward greater representation and more humanized characterization of persons in the LGBTQ community. While we still have a long way to go, this episode deserves just flowers for paving the way, particularly within the Black and hip-hop community.
Check out the episode and the discussion right here.
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