No, I’m not talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m talking about the pop culture phenomenon, Rupaul’s Drag Race. Since it's debut in 2009, the show has launched the careers of more than a hundred drag artists all over the world. With franchises in Thailand, The United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and the promise of more to come, this is a global takeover I can get behind.
Canada’s Drag race premiered the summer of 2020, in patriotic fashion I might add, with twelve queens eager to show what the Canadian drag scene has to offer. Enter Tynomi Banks, a statuesque beauty who represents her namesakes well. In name, she is serving Tyra and Naomi, but on stage, it is 100% Beyonce. Anyone who has seen Tynomi Banks live knows that she delivers. There’s a reason she is a staple in the Toronto entertainment scene. Like most Drag Race alums, Tynomi has hit the ground running. Of course, Tynomi already knows how to use her platform. She was the only queen verified on Instagram before being on the show. With that said, she has made good use of her time on Drag Race and has been diversifying her entertainment portfolio. Despite COVID-19, Tynomi has no intentions of slowing down. A drag queen for the 2020s, if you will. Tynomi, shantay, you SLAY! I had a chance to sit down with Tynomi for a chat and here she is, in her own words.
2020 has been a rough year for everybody, but here you are securing the bag and collecting all the coins. Talk about 2020 and this lockdown that will not end. How has life been for you under COVID-19?
I honestly don’t know. I felt the same as everyone else and went through my own period of breakdown. I just cried it out. Oh my God, I felt trapped because the truth is, we are (trapped) a little bit. Then you soon get tired of that feeling and I just didn't want to feel that anymore. So, I challenged myself to see what I could do to get through. With the help of other creative queens, who were missing the stage themselves, we lent ourselves to the internet and created digital drag shows. We could be creative in a safe way while sharing our passion, our love, and our voices. Yeah, being connected over the internet helped during those hard times.
Right, we must try everything to keep ourselves sane through this time. I'm happy to hear that the community came together in this way.
Oh yeah, and there was so much going on, especially in the States. The Black Lives Matter movement got powerful and supercharged. I didn't experience everything in the same way as a lot of people do in the States. I live in Canada, and I am not saying Canada is any better, but it is different. I realized I have this platform that allows me to share information and even learn. I need to learn as well because I don't know everything. Since last year, I've been using the time we have to better, recreate, and strengthen myself.
I stan a conscious queen, so come through. One of the things I love is how you celebrate Black women aesthetic or Black women art in your drag. I mean, you do Afro puffs, you're giving me braids, and sometimes high fades; very Grace Jones-esque. Can you talk about what inspires this?
Yes! My inspiration is just growing up in a Black family, watching my mom and listening to old-school music. I just think these styles…at first, I did not know, but learned over time, that these protective hairstyles are also super beautiful. With me, I like pushing against the norms. I remember growing up my friends in school used to get made fun of for having certain hairstyles. Then when I got older, friends shared they weren’t hired because of the way their hair looked. I was super shocked because our hair is art. I realize I have a lot of followers, and a lot of white fans especially. I thought that was a great way in my aesthetic to show my culture. Look, my culture is beautiful. You're gonna respect and want to learn my culture, and that has been happening.
I checked out your website and noticed your Black Lives Matter-themed merch. It also says part of the proceeds goes to BLM Canada. What triggered this collaboration?
I was sitting here just like, oh my god, what am I gonna do? Usually, for Black History Month the past few years, I have been doing performances or something that is high production. Because of Covid-19 and everything being on pause right now, I had to find a different way to do something. My team and I sat down together to come up with a way to give back and I remember there is a beautiful picture of me during one of my last performances on stage, with a beautiful Black Lives Matter printed outfit. I was performing on stage and an audience member took it. I just think it is a powerful picture. My merch is usually very cartoony and fun, but this picture captured a real moment and spoke depths without saying a word. It was just powerful. The image of how I was standing, what I was doing and what I stand for, down to the style of my hair. So, I wanted to have this on clothing. In creating this line, I was like, okay, fashion…sure it is not fashion, FASHION, but everyone looks good in a hoodie. They are so comfortable, like a hug. I was like, yeah, we need to make hoodies. Clearly, many people agreed with me because on day one we had so many orders for the hoodies. Plus, the wording on my T-shirts, just calling for people to be anti-racist. We want it to be normalized and clothing is one way to get to that point.
Photo Courtesy: Kayla Mac
One of the things that were not lost on me with the hoodie is that a hoodie arguably started the BLM movement in the States, and I am referring particularly to Trayvon Martin and the unfortunate circumstances around his death.
Honestly, that was an unconscious thing. I didn't even realize until people started asking, ‘Why the hoodies?’ Maybe subconsciously that was working because of the stigma attached to hoodies when Black kids are wearing them. Now the hoodies are a top seller, and we are confronting racism by wearing them proudly. Yeah, I'm happy that you brought that up.
BLM Merchandise Courtesy: Tynomi Banks (Image on hoodie - Kayla Mac)
The universe works weirdly. We just have to work with it.
Segueing into your Super Bowl commercial, you were serving Grecian realness. I loved it. What emotions coursed through you upon seeing the ad on this stage? This is the Super Bowl, and here you are, a drag queen in the mix promoting a product. How do you feel about that?
I don't realize the power and the persuasion I have sometimes. My confidence and how I carry myself got me there and got me the booking. For some reason, people love my energy and how I have this carefree attitude about me, but at the same time, I care a lot. Listen, I'm just grateful for the whole experience and I’m blessed that they booked me. They treated me like a queen the whole time. Even afterwards, though it was a few days, the relationships I’ve gained are just amazing. The director was adamant that I be myself. Just so you know, a quick story, there were no words for the ad. They just had the characters they needed and the idea they wanted. They were like, ‘What would you say here?’
I got the part, but he wanted to know what I would do. I just acted silly and imagined snakes on my head and how I would talk to them. The director said he loved it, and we did the part over and over again, in different ways, saying different things. It was just fun because I felt like they wanted my personality to come through.
It's also worth noting that RuPaul is the only other drag artist with a 2021 Super Bowl commercial. Okay!
I know, right!? I didn’t even know this until recently. When I found out, I was excited. I just like these little surprises.
You are a part of the inaugural cast of Drag Race Canada and this is history. What was the experience like filming the competition?
I want to say it's almost like Hunger Games without the violence.
Oh, am I being served tea?
Ohhh, a little bit. It’s a cast joke. We say, yeah, we were in the Hunger Games because it was. One of the things they didn’t want us to talk about was how cold it was. It was so cold it messed some of us up. When you are that cold you just want to go home. I did what I could do to stay as long as I could. I got a few good lines in there and had a bit of screen time and everything, but I gained so much more. I only knew a few of those girls through performing, but I didn't really know them. We didn't go out for dinner or anything. Yet here we were, thrown in the same situation sharing an experience. So even though it was a competition, it did not feel like that. I left with a whole new group of sisters. We know each other now, deeper, especially queens like Anastarzia, Priyanka and Kiara. As queens of colour, we had the chance to connect deeper, especially with all that is happening in the world. Y'know how we are treated differently sometimes? I must say we were never treated differently on site though. We just knew after the show what kind of feedback we could have gotten because a lot of the girls in the states get threats, blatant racism, and horrible stuff like that. We had each other’s back in preparation for that, and I gained an extended family for sure.
I want us to explore something you just mentioned because the US Black queens have been very vocal about the racism that exists within the fanbase of Drag Race. Have you experienced anything like that and was it something you considered before joining the cast?
I definitely thought about it. I didn't know if I wanted to apply for the show because of the things I had read from queens of colour. Then you think, yeah, I am ready. I thought I was ready until I had the audition form in front of me. I was like, oh my god, can I do this? I did my research and it was like, shit, a lot of people go through really bad stuff. Why are the fans like this? What I always tell myself is, those people don't know me. My friends and my family know me. That's a constant reminder I play in my mind. When I do get racist attacks, I quickly block them. I do not entertain them. There are times when they pick the right day and then I'm like, Okay!
Today is the day!
Yeah, most times I send it to friends to show them what this person said to me and they're like, ‘Ok, just leave it with me.’ My friends are so good in that way. I don’t do battles head-on with the trolls just to stay unbothered. Also, what's the end goal? What is the objective here? Just ignore and keep moving on.
I really wanted an official reunion for Drag Race. Was there anything on the show that you saw while watching that you wish you had the chance to speak about?
Legally, there’s so much covered by contracts, we couldn’t even have talked about a lot of stuff. We had a mini-reunion that was like the first season of the UK Drag Race. We followed that skeleton. Our reunion was when we walked the runway in our final looks. They welcomed us back and we got to have a kiki with the girls a little bit. It wasn’t shown on TV, but we had a family dinner together and really talked to each other out of drag; we sat there, laughed and cried about things. It was a few personal hours with each other before we were released into the world.
We're gonna shift gears a bit and talk about “Jump, Darling”. This movie is slated for release on March 9, 2021. Can you tell us about the character that you play and the movie in general?
Jacqueline O’Nasty, the head honcho at a drag bar. She runs the nights and I really liked it. I got to perform in the movie as well. The song choice is this weird artistic song and I just got to do things I enjoy on stage. I already love doing stuff like that, so I was in my element. The main character in the movie is interesting. He signs up to do a show but he doesn't perform when I call for him. It gets funny because when he comes back to the club I'm like, O hell no girl! I get a few moments where I get to show the side of me that is cunty, but then there are also heartfelt moments. But honestly, you know who had me starstruck?
Yes! She had a personal message and it was so cute. She was like, ‘Tynomi should have won. I don't know. She was robbed.’ It was said right there on the big screen in front of the whole parking lot at the drive-in. It was packed and it felt amazing to hear that from her. Like after hearing that, I couldn’t pay attention to the show. That is a treasured moment.
Photo Still From "Jump, Darling" Courtesy: Viktor Cahoj
You are known in the Toronto entertainment scene for your performances and being a dancer with a capital “D”...is acting something that we will be seeing you doing more of going forward?
I've been thinking about actually taking more lessons. People just call me to do these parts. I'm taking on these roles and I am very nervous because I don't have years of experience and just the pressure. The truth is there are actors and actresses out there doing everything to get a role, and I get called because of who I am. I want to show respect to the craft and put in the work. It’s a totally different world to what I am used to because you could act something out 17 different ways and they film all of that and you don’t know what they're gonna use. While as a drag artist, I have the crowd screaming if I'm killing it.
It’s an immediate response with Drag.
Yes! I'm informed as to whether I should do more of this or less of that. Whereas the directors go, ‘Alright, got it.’ I am there like, okay, I guess he got it. (laughs)
I noticed that the cast list for “Jump, Darling” has you listed as Tynomi Banks, not your given name, Sheldon Macintosh. Is this intended to establish Tynomi as the performer, and Sheldon as the private citizen?
That was by design. Years ago, I decided to create a line between the two. I remember when I decided to change my Instagram to reflect this. It was a big thing for me because I wanted people to see the two as separate beings, Tynomi and Sheldon are not the same. This was a personal thing I did for myself. I had gone through this period where I was questioning how people attend drag shows, but they don't truly support us. For example, wanting to go on a date with someone and they learn you do drag, it becomes, no, I can't date you. There are these crazy ideas about us as drag queens. I was struggling with that a few years ago. One day I looked at my resume and I was like, Oh, my God, all these things I have accomplished, and I am here in the pits. It's not like I want to forget about Sheldon, I just recognize that Tynomi is the star and I'm not afraid of saying that.
I love that. You know, at this point, your resume looks awesome.
It's not that Sheldon's not interesting. I did what I did to make Tynomi the focus. I made that choice, not to hide behind her or anything like that. Sheldon is definitely different. He is laid back and subdued. He plays his video games, watches movies, and just chills with friends. While Tynomi is like, I'm gonna stand for this. I do this. I'm the queen. It’s just a good balance.
What else do you have that we should be looking out for? Give us something to help us through the lockdown version 10.
I am always working on something. I have a few projects happening, which are gonna come out over the next few months. I will...please don't stress me out with this...but I'm dabbling a little bit in the tunes and music theory.
Ok, Miss ma’am!
I guess. I just don't want to hype everyone up. You know, when people are like, I'm coming up with new music, and everyone's like, ‘when?’ It's not for you to ask me when it's for me to put it out, okay.
So basically, you don’t want us to Rihanna you?
No, just buy my Fenty beauty products and be patient. Thank you.
Tynomi, it was a dream chatting with you. Thank you for sharing and I am looking forward to your star continuing to rise.
Thank you so much. I am truly honoured. It was great. I don't get to talk about what I am doing often, so thank you.