Film

Meet the ‘joyous, messy, political’ cabaret troupe serving up ‘queer Asian excellence’

SJ Zhang February 20, 2022
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A performer in a gold headpiece holding a peach

Peach Paradise. (Netflix)

The Bitten Peach has taken the cabaret scene by storm.

A new documentary, Peach Paradise, tells the story of The Bitten Peach, a gender-diverse, pan-Asian collective that seeks to showcase “queer Asian joy and excellence” in all its forms.

As co-founder ShayShay explains in the film: “It’s not exclusively a drag collective, it’s not just burlesque, we really do try to encompass all types of performance.”

Starting a new collective was no easy feat, as ShayShay recalls that venues were initially concerned that “there wouldn’t be enough Asian performers to fill a lineup” and venues questioned whether there would be an audience. Luckily, ShayShay was able to persuade venues to try putting on something new, and the rest is history.

Since it formed in 2019, The Bitten Peach has experienced meteoric success with sell-out shows across the UK and a devoted fanbase. “As a collective, we are blessed to have a really supportive audiences that come out, that are there for us,” ShayShay tells PinkNews, adding: “We have a lot of a lot of queer trans POC coming to support us.”

For filmmaker and performer Shiva Raichandani, who directed Peach Paradise, their encounter with The Bitten Peach was particularly inspiring and important, especially given the lack of representation and spaces for queer Asians.

Two friends smiling, looking at another person in a large hat
Peach Paradise. (Netflix)

“Given all of my identities, whether it’s being Asian or queer, non-binary, as a dancer… it’s always been difficult to find visual representation, templates, references of my experiences out there,” Shiva tells PinkNews.

Watching The Bitten Peach perform, they were amazed by “this vast range of different queer and Asian experiences being platformed… guided, mentored, championed, brought together in a very holistic community, family.”

Being able to depict queer creativity and joy on screen is particularly important to Shiva, as it was not something they had access to growing up.

“We look up to people in mainstream media to learn from them, to feel comfortable in ourselves or to affirm our identities,” they explain. “So hopefully this little offering of ours is able to do that.”

Regardless of how viewers identify, Shiva hopes they can “resonate with the experiences, struggles, joy and everything that ShayShay and the collective goes through.” For queer Asian viewers, Shiva also hopes that the film can showcase “what queer Asian joy and excellence could be and is.”

A performer in a red kimono-style garment
Peach Paradise. (Netflix)

Though there is plenty of talent out there, Shiva explains that it can be difficult for marginalised creatives to access film-making opportunities, especially in mainstream media.

“It is very rare to have stories and narratives of queer Asians put out at the forefront in major platforms like this. It is even more rare to have creative control in being able to tell the stories in the ways you want without it being tainted by external forces.”

Through creating Peach Paradise, Shiva seeks to demonstrate that the stories of marginalised folks are both “deserving to be told” and “commercially viable”. Peach Paradise was produced with an all-Asian crew, both on-screen and off-screen, and the team hopes it will “show people that the talent is out there and stories are out there, just waiting to be tapped into. The only thing that stops us is opportunity.”

For ShayShay and Shiva, performance and film are important mediums for pursuing social change. ShayShay recalls: “People used to say that my shows felt a little bit like going to school, but in a fun way, because if I have this opportunity, I have your attention, and I can enlighten you on a subject, I’m going to use that.”

“There’s also so much fun that can be had in learning about a subject [through a performance]” they add, explaining how performance can be used to challenge audiences to “think about something in a slightly different way”, which echoes the subversive history of drag and performance art.

“Drag, cabaret and performance in general, can hold many truths,” Shiva adds. “It can be fun, messy, joyous, political. The very fact that someone like ShayShay is on a stage, that in itself is inherently political. The fact that this documentary exists, is inherently a political statement in itself. The fact that we are showcasing radical queer joy is a form of protest and dissent in itself.”

Peach Paradise was funded by Netflix’s Documentary Talent Fund programme, which is supporting 10 emerging filmmakers to tell exciting and unique stories about British life – including one about the “gayest ever” school reunion.

The resulting 10 films will premiere via a Netflix TikTok Live taking place at 7pm on Friday here.

They will then drop on Netflix’s YouTube Channel Still Watching on Sunday at 2pm.

More: burlesque, cabaret, drag, netflix

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