Australia: RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under: Local version of hit reality TV series missteps when it comes to race and representation

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The first season of RuPaul ' s Drag Race Down Under began airing on 1 May and concluded on 19 Kita Mean won RuPaul ' s Drag Race Down Under . Art Simone, Karen from Finance and Scarlet Race Down Under : Local version of hit reality TV series missteps when it comes to race and

Spin-off of RuPaul ' s Drag Race . Drag queens from Australia and New Zealand compete. Create a free acount to gain access to tons of cool features like subscribing to your favorite tv shows and receiving Facebook notifications when a new episode is released.

a group of people sitting at a table: Drag Race Down Under has ended up with the first all-white top eight in the franchise's history. (Supplied: Stan) © Provided by ABC NEWS Drag Race Down Under has ended up with the first all-white top eight in the franchise's history. (Supplied: Stan)

It only took 13 US seasons, five All Star seasons, two British and Thai seasons – as well Dutch and Canadian versions – but halleloo, we finally got our own Antipodean season of Drag Race.

Queer community and drag queens in Australia and New Zealand have been gagging for Drag Race Down Under since RuPaul started the show. After all, Australia is the birthplace of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, has its own annual Miss First Nation pageant, and the Māori and Pasifika-led ballroom and drag scene in Aotearoa New Zealand is world-famous.

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Spin-off of RuPaul ' s Drag Race . Drag queens from Australia and New Zealand compete. Genre: TV Show .

Watch TV Shows . RuPaul ' s Drag Race Down Under . Drag superstar RuPaul is the host, mentor, main judge and inspiration for this series , which details RuPaul ' s search for " Down Under 's Next Drag Superstar".

But not everyone's happy with the outcome so far. And like many controversies surrounding pop culture in Australia, many of the criticisms are to do with race.

Wait, what's Drag Race, again? And why should I care?

Only the most awarded reality competition series in Emmy history, and dubbed by the New York Times as possibly the "most radical show on TV".

Drag Race has been responsible for taking drag from the fringes to the mainstream, making many see it as a legitimate art form in its own right for the first time.

The Down Under version is judged by the world's most famous drag queen, RuPaul, alongside Drag Race veteran Michelle Visage and Australian comedian Rhys Nicholson. If you've never seen an episode, here's what you need to know.

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Both RuPaul , who was recently reported to be in hotel quarantine in New Zealand, and fellow judge Michelle Visage will appear in this new version from Stan. That is somewhat of a coup for Australian fans, given most international spin-offs feature local hosts. The Emmy-winning show is currently in its 13th season. "I cannot wait for everyone to see that Down Under queens have some of the biggest charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talents in the world," Ru Paul said in a media announcement. Stan said more information on competing queens and guest judges would be announced later this year.

Home. TV Series . RuPaul ' s Drag Race Down Under - Season 1. Spin-off of RuPaul ' s Drag Race . Drag queens from Australia and New Zealand compete. When a movie production company arrives in a small town, a local man catches a movie star's eye.

How did locals feel about the announcement of the Australian version?

Jared Richards – who recaps Drag Race for Junkee – says, "I went into it optimistic, but expected it to be a bit messy – just by nature of how quickly they created it."

The show was filmed in January in Auckland in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions. It premiered worldwide in May. "Which is a fast turnaround for Drag Race – and for most reality shows," Richards says.

So what's people's problem with the Down Under version?

For a country where roughly one in three people aren't Anglo, half are first- or second-generation migrants and one in five speak non-English languages at home – and with one of the most multicultural drag scenes – some felt the casting was … qwhite odd.

Of the ten competing queens, there is only one Aboriginal and one Asian queen.

"It felt a little disappointing that it was mostly East Coast-based, and just so damn white," Richards says.

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In the first-ever episode of RuPaul ' s Drag Race Down Under , Ru is out of drag ! There is something very fresh about watching people with non-American accents showcasing a new style of drag we have not seen emulated hundreds of times on the American version of Drag Race . The dolls are less polished, less produced, and way shadier. The dynamic makes for a very enjoyable hour of television apart from the lackluster runway.

"There are so many queer performers of colour throughout Sydney [alone]: Tyra Bankstown and Felicia Foxx are two obvious examples for anybody who has the slightest idea of drag in Sydney."

Tyra Bankstown is a 34-year-old Sydney-based Mangarai First Nations queen who has done drag for 10 years and worked full-time in the scene for five years. As she points out, "There are no Māori queens there – and this is shot in New Zealand. Having [only] one First Nations Australian queen was a bit tokenistic. The cast just isn't really as colourful as I thought it could've been."

Keep in mind this is a show that is usually and consistently praised for inclusive casting. Over half of its US main season winners have been queens of colour. One disabled queen has won. Many trans contestants have competed.

"It's a shame Drag Race Down Under isn't representing Australia's diversity," Bankstown says.

Isn't it a meritocracy, though? RuPaul's always saying, "May the best drag queen win".

"Well that would be a good point … if it was true," Richards says, laughing.

For starters, the show requires queens to fund their own looks — making it an uneven playing field already. Growing attention is being paid to the significant financial burdens queens undertake – anywhere between $4,000 to $20,000 USD – to compete on the show (and lord help you if you are wearing an off-the-rack garment).

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One big difference between the US and Antipodean versions is that the Down Under cast didn't have to send in video auditions. And that's where it gets tricky, because many audience members – and many in the drag scene – feel who was hand-picked represents questionable casting.

Which leads us to Scarlet Adams.

Wait, who's Scarlet Adams?

Scarlet Adams is a Perth-based queen and a front-runner on the show, who has a documented history of past performances in blackface, brownface and yellowface. She has since apologised on social media and on the show itself.

Richards says he doesn't understand why Scarlet was cast.

"It's possible that they weren't aware of all of these horrendous acts beforehand — but if that's the case, they didn't really do their due diligence. If there is all of this controversy, and you're going to have such a predominantly white cast, it seems like such a misstep."

But doesn't everyone deserve a second chance? Aren't criticisms of Scarlet examples of "cancel culture"?

"I don't think that's what this is," Richards says. "Does this technically-proficient, very pretty drag queen really need this platform? Is she that unique that her transgressions make up for it?"

Bankstown says: "I do believe everyone deserves a second chance — but it depends what you do [and whether] you take steps to change."

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For starters, Bankstown would like to see Scarlet Adams go beyond an apology, and use her growing profile to promote and elevate queens from minority backgrounds, and book those queens at shows. "There's so many First Nations queens that could do with the platform."

What's the controversy around Art Simone about?

After Aboriginal queen Jojo Zaho was ousted first, Art Simone – a white contestant, and a favourite going into the competition – was eliminated next. Her devastated reaction was so memorable, it spawned memes and merchandise.

Sole Asian queen Coco Jumbo – who is legendary for having once beaten up a violent homophobe in full drag – was the next to go, leaving an all-white top seven.

Then in the next episode, Rupaul brought Art Simone back into the show with no explanation.

And in the words of iconic S13 queen Tamisha Iman, I said what I said:

"It leaves a sour taste," Richards says. "Add on the racial elements and it feels gross."

But isn't the final decision RuPaul's to make?

Many feel if the show wanted to bring back Art Simone – who has previously collaborated with the production company that makes Drag Race – they could have manufactured better optics.

Richards says, "They could have just lied: 'We're bringing back all these three queens to compete in a challenge! Everybody gets to vote!' It would have felt less awkward."

Where does this leave Art?

After Art's return, many criticised the show – and Art herself – given her comeback was literally unearned.

Art has said she is not doing well in the aftermath, pointing out it was not her decision to come back, and asking fans not to tag her when discussing or criticising her.

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The franchise has a long vexed history of having a toxic fanbase, prone to social media pile-ons of individuals queens.

"I hate when any of the queens are trolled or sent hate-mail about things they've done on the show – especially when it's mostly producer-led," Richards says.

Both Jojo Zaho and Coco Jumbo have leapt to Art Simone's defence:

Why should I care about any of this, given I don't watch this show?

As Richards says, "Time and time again, Australian television and media has generally shown that it really struggles with representing who Australia actually is."

Which is to say, this isn't just a conversation about Drag Race, but how TV shows in Australia constantly erase the country's multiculturalism and diversity.

Between allegations of racism on the sets of major TV shows, all-white advertising campaigns, and the fact that racial minorities, queer people and disabled Australians are still vastly underrepresented in scripted TV, we have a long way to go.

Should I keep watching it?

Despite his significant reservations, Richards says he'll keep watching Drag Race Down Under – and not just because it's his job.

"At the end of the day, I adore seeing Australian and New Zealand drag queens being given an international spotlight," he says.

"We do have such a distinct, campy, nasty, shocking and crude drag style. Also, this surely has to be one of the few Australian TV shows I've seen with this many queer people on it."

And as Jojo Zaho puts it, people will need to keep watching it if you want to see another comeback:

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