‘Queer Eye’ celebrates Philadelphia

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Season five of “Queer Eye” dropped on Netflix on June 5, this time showcasing 10 residents of the City of Brotherly Love. Hosts Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness, aka the Fab Five, zoom in on Philadelphia’s diversity by featuring people from different racial, cultural, religious and professional backgrounds. The series also snapshots some of Philly’s defining characteristics, like the Italian Market, Baltimore Avenue in West Philly, City Hall as well as local businesses like Bookers and Pizzeria Beddia. 

For those unfamiliar, the members of the Fab Five bring a different lens of expertise to the group –– Berk is an interior designer, Brown is in charge of culture and interpersonal relationships, France is a fashion guru, Porowski is versed in food and wine and Van Ness specializes in beauty and grooming. 

Considering the series came out in the midst of a string of nationwide protests against the police killing of George Floyd and systemic racism on the whole, Van Ness posted on Instagram acknowledging the political unrest. His post reads in part, “I don’t want anyone to think that we intend for ‘Queer Eye’ to be a cure for what’s going on –– it’s not. I hope that our show doesn’t serve as a distraction from the fight but rather a tool that can be used to rest, engage in self-care and inspire conversations around our incredible heroes and their stories, because our heroes’ stories deserve to be told.”  

Each episode of “Queer Eye” features a “hero,” someone who is in need of transformation in their lives, from gaining the capital and confidence to revamp their business to patching up relationships with their loved ones. 

The protagonists of season five include Noah, a queer pastor at Fishtown’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement; Rahanna, who runs a dog grooming business in Norristown; Kevin, who is close with his daughter but apprehensive in the leadup to her wedding; Tyreek, a North Philly native who works for Mighty Writers; Abby, a 17-year-old climate change activist; Ryan, a DJ who lives at the Jersey Shore; Jennifer, a stay-at-home mom whose husband is living with ALS; Marcos, a fishmonger who owns a stall in the Italian Market; Lilly, a first generation Korean American woman who works as a pediatrician; and Nate, who owns Body Rock gym in West Philly. 

Noah’s episode focused in part on how his relationship with the church intersects with his LGBTQ identity. He addressed the long history of faith communities discriminating against members of the queer community and how he wants to help repair that. 

“We want to create friendship with the community that we’re in,” Noah said in the episode. “That also means having honest conversations. The church is quick to try to fix things without owning the damage that was done and that is one of the things that I want to change and advocate for.”

Tyreek, a 27-year-old Black man, had a difficult upbringing living in North Philly. He spent part of his childhood living with a family friend and surrogate mother, Ruth, but circumstances led her to send him back to his mother. When his brother committed a serious crime, his family dispersed and Tyreek experienced homelessness. 

“You’re always one moment away from just being somebody else that got killed or being somebody else that went to jail,” Tyreek said in episode four. “My brother and I are the same person –– he’s just as smart. His thing was just not having the right people in his life. I think Ruth was a huge resource.” 

City Councilperson Helen Gym shows up in episode five to share some words of wisdom with Abby, the environmental activist. “Your ability to free other people relies on you yourself being free,” Gym said. Amber Hikes, former director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, makes a quick cameo in the scene. 

Marcos immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and now sells fish in the Italian Market with the help of his wife and kids. He also plans to open his own seafood restaurant. The Fab Five pointed out that he embodies the American Dream; he represents what life should be like for immigrants in the U.S.  

“American culture is all together no matter where you come from, as long as you’re coming in peace,” Marcos said at the end of episode eight. 

In the season five closer, the Fab Five work with Nate, who needs to refurbish his gym and regain his self-confidence. 

“I’ve been trying to figure out on my own how to accept help, how to get back to my original energy, and that doesn’t involve me carrying any preconceived notions about myself,” Nate said in the episode.

All of Philadelphia’s “heroes” have struggled at one point or another in their lives. However, the Fab Five try to help them realize their worth and what they’ve overcome.

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