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Film and TV

Drag Race UK queens Sum Ting Wong and Vinegar Strokes spill the tea on the show’s diversity

Reiss Smith October 31, 2019

Sum Ting Wong and Vinegar Strokes. (BBC)

Drag Race UK is left without a single queen of colour after Sum Ting Wong and Vinegar Strokes were eliminated.

The lack of diversity among the cast was the main cause of complaints when the Drag Race UK line-up was unveiled back in August.

Of 10 queens who entered the werk room, just two were of colour: Vinegar Strokes, who is of black Caribbean descent, and Sum Ting Wong, who is of “first-generation born Chinese-Vietnamese heritage”.

For Sum Ting, this isn’t an issue, as for her a queen should be taken on merit and nothing more.

“I’m a big Chinese lady, I tick a lot of boxes,” she told PinkNews.

“But in a show like RuPaul’s Drag Race, the only categories that you’re signed up for are charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.

“It’s a big conversation, bigger than Drag Race, but I feel we’re all here for merit and ability, not just for how we look.”

Let’s cut the whole skin colour thing – is this cast diverse in drag, yes it is.

Sum Ting and Vinegar are both adamant that their series’ lack of on-screen diversity is down to the queens who actually auditioned.

“You have to realise the UK is a smaller country, so the drag pool is smaller,” Vinegar told PinkNews.

“Who is actually applying? If five [queens of colour] apply there’s probably only one or two who are actually at the level to get on the show.

“Let’s cut the whole skin colour thing – is this cast diverse in drag, yes it is.”

Looking at the franchise’s past form, there’s little reason not to believe them.

But does that mean that Drag Race UK gets a clean pass on diversity?

What might prove telling is the treatment the British queens receive out in the real world.

In the US, a number of queens have called out the show’s fandom for being prejudiced. As Bob The Drag Queen noted back in June 2018 “a lot of the most popular queens fall into the thin white category”.

“And no black queens, except RuPaul, have over a million followers [on Instagram]. It’s not the show. It’s the fandom,” she said.

While this is no longer true – Bob along with a number of other queens have since broken the one million barrier – a similar pattern is already emerging in the UK.

With 62,000 Instagram followers, Vinegar is the least popular  on the social media site of all 10 British queens. Sum Ting, with 95,000, has fared somewhat better, but still trails behind also-rans Gothy Kendoll (101k) and Scaredy Kat (108k).

When this disparity becomes problematic is when a lack of popularity translates into something deeper.

If I – or another African-American queen – make shady comments, I get labeled as a b***h or bitter or something negative.

Kennedy Davenport is one queen who has complained about being held to a different standard that white queens.

“If I – or another African-American queen – make shady comments, I get labeled as a b***h or bitter or something negative,” Kennedy told Billboard.

“And someone who is not African-American may say the exact same thing, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, she’s funny! Oh, she’s just playing!’ That has happened, it has been proven.”

Several of her American sisters have also reported similar experiences, including Asia O’Hara and Naomi Smalls, who both received death threats because of their race after appearing on the show.

The Vixen has been vocal about the treatment she received from both fans and from Drag Race itself.

The Vixen (Netflix).

She famously called RuPaul out during the season 10 reunion for failing to have her back throughout her ongoing rivalry with Euerka – who had admitted to picking fights with her.

“Everybody’s telling me how I should react but nobody’s telling her how to act,” she said before leaving the set in protest

Later, she would tell Into that the exchange sent “a horrible message to people of colour who want to be on the show, people of colour who watch the show, that their only option is to be silent or to be persecuted”.

The British queens have to yet to face any of these challenges – and for what it’s worth, here’s hoping that they never do.

But the real test of Drag Race UK’s commitment to diversity will come not when the next batch of queens are announced – though we’ll be watching closely – but in how the show supports queens like Sum Ting and Vinegar when they, perhaps inevitably, come up against racism. So far, the jury’s out.

More: diversity, Drag Race UK, Sum Ting Wong, Vinegar strokes

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