Drag Race UK’s Asttina Mandella makes important point about not speaking over minorities after BBC controversy

Asttina Mandella as Naomi Campbell

Drag Race UK star Asttina Mandella made an important point about speaking from lived experience and not talking over underrepresented communities after a BBC reviewer mistakenly suggested she and Tayce “lacked interest” in queer Black British history.

Journalist Hayley Campbell was widely slammed for her review of the season two premiere of Drag Race UK, in which she critiqued Asstina and Tayce for both choosing Naomi Campbell for a British gay icon runway challenge.

The two queens, who are both Black, admitted in the episode they had struggled to think of another Black Briton who would have fitted the challenge criteria, leading into a frank conversation about the lack of representation in UK media.

In her review, Campbell said: “There’s a larger problem with representation, of course, and having them talk about that on Drag Race is great, but there’s also this lack interest from the contestants in any history.

“Are you telling me Donna Summer is not a gay icon? Somebody dressed up as Alan Turing so they’re not even limited to gay icons in films and music, so what about James Baldwin who was not only gay and wrote about being gay, but also wore gorgeous clothes and was one of the coolest people who ever lived? What about Grace Jones? Or Josephine Baker, the glamorous 1920s movie star who was a civil rights activist and dated Frida Kahlo. There is so much history here that went unexplored in favour of having two Naomi Campbells and I was just sitting there getting annoyed.”

What Campbell missed was that the challenge specifically required the queens to namecheck UK gay icons; none of the people she named as potential additions to the runway were British. In an update to the review, she apologised for the error.

Asttina Mandella

Asttina Mandella. (BBC)

Asttina Mandella: “Don’t devalue my 27 years on this earth.’

After the review went viral on social media, the south London queen gave her take on the matter.

“All opinions are valid,” she wrote, adding that everybody has “the freedom to voice it”.

“But most of the time, you shouldn’t,” she continued. “I respect your thoughts and understand the point of what the article speaks about, however any views on the topic [of] gay icons and POC icons and so forth……(tumbleweed) NOTHING!

“You have zero ground, zero space and zero knowledge to stand or say anything, you shouldn’t even exhale air on the matter and topic yet alone comment, cause all that you do is devalue and erase my childhood, my upbringing, my 27 years on this earth and every other human being that walks on this earth and is part of a minority (not hetero/cis) in society.

“What I remember, what I experienced growing up and what I lived and still live through is the REALITY and FACT and the TRUTH.

“I’m not one to voice my feelings via social media, but anything that tries to crush and devalue my life and what I lived through and what my mother and family, my friends, my community and how ever million others. Yes have your opinion but keep it there cause it’s your opinion and until you have facts and research and proof to go along your thoughts.”


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A post shared by Asttina Mandella (@asttinamandella)

Asttina suggested the solution is to “stay quiet, learn, ask, educate and understand”. She signed off her post by urging fans not to attack Campbell.

“It’s OK to make mistakes,” she summed up. “Just accept and hold [your]self accountable.”

Many applauded Asttina for her thoughtful response, including fellow Drag Race queen The Vixen, who has been vocal about the mistreatment she has received as a Black performer.

“The hardest part about doing Drag Race is that after the world meets you – you have to meet the world,” The Vixen wrote.

“And the world isn’t as kind to us Black queens. BUT THIS IS YOUR MOMENT! The best way to deal with people trying to block your shine is to KEEP SHINING.”

In a footnote to her original piece, Campbell added: “In the above review I made an honest factual error. I misheard the rules of the ‘gay icon’ task and missed the fact that it was about British gay icons. I apologise.”

PinkNews has contacted Campbell and the BBC for comment.