Watch 5 Black RuPaul's Drag Race winners on significance of race and representation on the show
Asia O'Hara hosts EW's Emmys panel on racism, equality, and excellence with five Black queens who've won consecutive titles on RuPaul's Drag Race: Monét X Change, Yvie Oddly, Jaida Essence Hall, Heidi N Closet, and Shea Couleé.
Even on RuPaul's Drag Race — a monumental television showcase for diversity — a commitment to well-rounded representation matters, and EW has assembled a queer panel of queens to discuss why VH1's Emmy-nominated series' celebration of Black excellence across season 12 and All-Stars 5 in 2020 is a particularly important step in the fight for equality on mainstream platforms.
Moderated by season 10 finalist Asia O'Hara, EW's latest Awardist Emmys roundtable video (above) unites five Black queens who've consecutively won titles on the show for a powerful summit on race, Emmys, and excellence, featuring All-Stars 4 champ Monét X Change, season 11's titleholder Yvie Oddly, season 12 winner Jaida Essence Hall and her Miss Congeniality companion Heidi N Closet, and reigning All-Stars 5 victor Shea Couleé.
The roundtable begins with the queens getting to the root of representation versus tokenism, as they explain that the authenticity fueling the way Drag Race presents the personal stories of its eclectic cast was key to snagging the attention of Television Academy voters, who showered 13 nods (10 for Drag Race, three for companion series Untucked) on the series this year.
"Representation is a harder concept to digest because it's kind of blind, it's abstract, it's something where identity shouldn't matter as much because identity isn't holding you back, and, unfortunately, our history as a country has been the exact opposite," Oddly poses. "If we could help promote the embracing of other people's identities without needing to focus on them, it would be amazing. So far, we're on step one, which is a good step, but acknowledging that not everybody has the same opportunities and rights to life [is key]."
X Change later connects that idea to the way social media digested her unprecedented tie with Trinity The Tuck, a white queen, back on All-Stars 4. The New York City-based performer remembers receiving racist memes and a deluge of criticism claiming the color of her skin was the only thing that won her the crown, though she finds "reassurance from friends, family, and from a lot of girls in the franchise" who've bolstered the notion that talent snatched the crown, not a ticked box on a tokenism checklist.
"I feel like there's not a single Black queen who hasn't experienced a racial situation. A lot of the time people will pit our art against other artists about our race, and I don't feel like there's ever a place where our art should equal the color of our skin or who we are as a person and how we live our life. If art is good, then it's good," Hall adds, recalling that she expected to enter the competition struggling to accumulate followers (to date, she's still the least-followed finalist of the season 12 top three on Instagram). "Eventually when you continue to be yourself and continue to do excellence, people will have no choice but to stop being a hater and hopefully turn the tide and come to love you!"
Couleé speculates that the work Drag Race is doing in spreading a more diverse collection of queer voices through the television community is not only catching the attention of Emmys voters, but affecting change outside the realm of the screen, too: "It helps to establish and legitimize the art of drag and the queer experience as something that is a true art form. People are really getting the opportunity to understand that it's not a novelty, that this is an art form rooted in generations upon generations."
The group also reflects on the lighter aspects of the competition, including the intense preparation for season 12's unprecedented virtual finale filmed inside the contestants' homes due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, constructing jaw-dropping fashions for the All-Stars 5 ball, and the iconic drama that helped make Drag Race as entertaining as it was important — especially in a presidential election year, as the show featured politically minded challenges and closed each episode with a reminder to viewers to register to vote.
"I'm just ready to see another Black queen crowned this year," Hall says of Joe Biden choosing Kamala Harris — a Black and South Asian woman — as his running mate on the Democratic ticket. "That would be amazing!"
Watch EW's full Awardist roundtable discussion with the cast of RuPaul's Drag Race above.