Well this episode was quite a roller coaster. The elephant in the room since before Rupaul’s Drag Race Down Under began has been the history of racism for two of the contestants. Karen From Finance previously owned a collection of racist dolls as well as a now-covered-up tattoo of the same doll. This seemingly will not be addressed on the show.
The other person to have more serious evidence of racism in her past is Scarlett Adams (follow Felicia Foxx who is doing an amazing job of calling this out). And this episode, we got to witness it being discussed both by the queens and on the main stage. I already knew all of this information prior to watching the show, however when Scarlett was discussing it with Etcetera Etcetera in the workroom, I found myself becoming quite enraged. I agree wholeheartedly with Etcetera in believing that blackface (or any kind of cultural appropriation) simply isn’t a conceivable action to take in any circumstance, let alone to play for laughs. Scarlett’s argument that she was ignorant at the time just doesn’t stand up when you’re talking about events that took place in 2018. I don’t care how ignorant you are, if you’re at the point where you have become a figure of importance in your community, and the LGBTIQ community is nothing if not diverse, then you should know better.
And then on the main stage, Rupaul provided Scarlett with an opportunity to explain herself and then made the choice not to ‘cancel’ her right then and there. I am among the many who wish she had done that, however I believe that’s exactly what’s happened in a roundabout way.
It will be very difficult for Scarlett to recover from this professionally. She has earned the ire of many of her season one sisters (see my previous recap for Coco Jumbo’s comment), and the international audience will not be kind to her. After searching for her Instagram, it appears she has been limited on that platform as well, so her chances of growth are dwindling by the second. Rupaul may not have cancelled her officially, but in giving her the stage to give us a lukewarm apology, the work is already done.
However, now we have a situation in which Jojo Zaho and Coco Jumbo have both been sent home, Scarlett Adams is allowed to stay and Etcetera Etcetera, the rational voice in the discussion, has also been sent home. It’s a competition, sure, but the results are not looking particularly fair or woke.
There is a lot of discussion about Drag Race Down Under and it’s mishandling of race and Australian (“Down Under”) culture. It’s said by some that this is indicative of our culture and what we deserve, and it is true that there is a long history of systemic racism in Australia, starting with the genocide of Aboriginal people in the late 1700s and continuing all throughout our short colonial history. It is also a fact that the Drag Race brand, while it may have begun back in 2008 and been ostensibly for the queer community at the time, is now also manufactured for the much larger and more lucrative straight community. This isn’t a slight against straight people, for we wouldn’t have a global franchise without them, but it means that the parts of our community that aren’t as immediately palatable to that audience just won’t make the cut. Do we need a discussion about race relations in Australia? Absolutely. Should it have been done by having Jojo Zaho make a statement and get eliminated in the first episode and Scarlett be allowed to stay as a repeatedly racist performer because her looks are more polished? Absolutely not. At the end of the day, the research simply wasn’t done, and the effort wasn’t put in to make this the diverse representation of Australia it could have been.
There are so many opportunities to support diverse queer Australian culture outside of this show, which I suggest seeking out. Read about the Tiwi Island Sistergirls on Buzzfeed. Support diverse queer filmmaking with Queer Screen and the Mardi Gras Film Festival. Go to a Drag Race Down Under viewing party at the local gay bar (google it, they’re not hard to find in most cities). Find and follow some queer Aboriginal artists like Dylan Mooney. Follow Bhenji Ra, founder of the House of Slé and the Sissy Ball, a celebration of Australian queer diversity. Once again, follow Felicia Foxx, who should be on this season of Drag Race Down Under. And if you’re feeling nostalgic and need to know that it hasn’t always been a whitewash, watch performances from the incredible Samoan drag queen, Bust Op back in the 90s who I used to idolise many years ago when she performed at ARQ. Educate yourself beyond what Rupaul is showing you.
Ok, back to the episode. I thought the challenge and runway were a little mystifying. None of the queens really seemed to hit their strides in their ‘yeast spread’ infomercials, I think because they all made the decision to make jars of excretion instead of branding it to themselves. All a little mystifying. Personally, I really enjoyed Art Simone’s ad and wasn’t sure why they disliked it so much. I also controversially liked Etcetera’s ‘piss’ ad. I thought it was irreverent and ironic. But at the end of the day, I thought they were all a little lackluster.
And then there was the runway, ‘finest Sheila in the bush’. I honestly do not understand this came out so hodge podge. Why did the New Zealand queens, Kita Mean and Electra Shock, cosplay as animals? Why was Scarlett doing an homage to Priscilla? To add to this, Art Simone was Kath Day-Knight (who she should have been in Snatch Game…) and Maxi Shield was inspired by Picnic at Hanging
Cock Rock. And then Karen and Etcetera were the bushfire and a firefighter? Once again this episode, I’m even more mystified. It’s difficult to pick a favourite runway given the dissonance, but I think for me it was Etcetera Etcetera. I loved the story and the execution.
But I’m not a judge so Etcetera turned up in the bottom with eternal favourite Maxi Shield. Two Sydney queens stood before us. I wanted them both to stay, and I think that if Etcetera had been up against anyone else, they would have, but up against the accidental perfect syzygy of Maxi Shield’s period outfit, the classic Australian Vanessa Amarosi hit ‘Absolutely Everybody’ and her spangly microphone, Etcetera stood no chance.
I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this lip sync and at the risk of sounding like a dead horse (did I get that right?), Maxi for the win!
- We once more see the great Aussie phrase, ‘not here to f*ck spiders’ return, this time from the mouth of Rupaul himself.
- I’m still unsure if Rupaul was present for filming. The only shot they have of the queens and Ru this episode is a distant one. What do you think?
- The reading challenge was good, not as disastrous as many American seasons have been which is a relief.
- Next week is the makeover challenge and they’ve gone back to basics and just making over sportsmen. Can’t wait.