Drag Race UK’s Asttina Mandella thinks the judges’ controversial critiques ‘contradict who we are as queer people’

Asttina Mandella in a navy high-necked top with her hair in long ponytails

Drag Race UK’s east London queen Asttina Mandella addressed her controversial exit, and why she’ll never stop speaking her mind.

The shock eliminations just keep on coming in season two, with Drag Race UK saying goodbye to another favourite this week.

Having won the first week’s maxi challenge and impressing in Rats the Rusical, Asttina Mandella suddenly found herself in the bottom for episode three’s sewing challenge after the Drag Race UK judges were “underwhelmed” by her “plain” design.

Before condemning her to the bottom two, where she ultimately lost the lip-sync to Tia Kofi, RuPaul complained he was “taken out of the illusion” by Asttina’s broad shoulders, adding “there was a lot of man shining through” – a critique it’s fair to say Asttina wasn’t all that impressed by…

PinkNews: How did you feel watching the episode last night?

Asttina Mandella: What I watched is not what I felt and lived through, but it was really nice to watch. Bloody emotional, I was not expecting it to be that much of an emotional episode!

When you say it wasn’t what you lived through, was there stuff we didn’t get to see?

There were things on the runway that were said, things that I remember happening, how I felt and how I was feeling…

I keep saying it’s like two of the same magnets, pull and pull, they’re both there but they’re not going to connect. It’s weird. But at the end of the day is what it is. And it was such a such a gag!

It was a gag! The judges weren’t keen on your runway, were their comments fair?

They’ve giving you their advice and that’s completely valid. The issue I have with it is… drag, especially in the UK, it’s an art form, and to tell someone, ‘You’ve got man shoulders’, to ask Ginny, ‘Have you ever tried being sexy?’ It kind of contradicts so much of who we are as people, especially in the LGBTQ community, by trying to add these rules and regulations.

The comments… I just processed them and I was like, OK this is not about you. They’re giving you their advice on what they’re seeing to make you better and to help you. I had understand their point of view, and not how I’m feeling. That was quite a process for me to deal with.

Asttina Mandella in a cropped puffer jacket

Asttina won the first week with her homage to East London. (BBC)

I was watching it like, so what if she wants to have big shoulders?

Serena Williams, really and truly, you would never tell her to put her big shoulders away. Also, last night while I was reading the comments and the pictures, I was looking at Rats the Rusical, and I was thinking why did I not wear a bra? And I went, oh yeah, it’s because I was a baby rat. Why would I wear a bra if I’m being a baby. Also, some women are flat-chested. So why does everyone have to were a bra? Women are hairy. It’s so weird that we’re adding these conditions to drag when in the world we’re trying to get rid of them for everyone. It was so interesting to me.

It felt like such a contrast to the conversation Ginny and Bimini were having in the werk room, about identity and acceptance and being free to be who you are…

… and then on the runway, it’s like you can’t be who you want to be [laughs]. But that’s why the show is so wonderful because it allows itself to be contradictory. It allows these conversations to happen. But also, it’s like, what the hell are you talking about because you’ve just contradicted yourself. Which makes everyone talk about the show… and that’s why we’re on season 20 million!

You and Tayce sparked a conversation about representation in week one of Drag Race UK with your talk about gay icons and the lack of POC representation. How does it feel being that representation for so many people?

It’s an honour. It’s a blessing. It’s something that I never expected to be, something that I never dreamed to be or even asked for, but I’m so happy that I’ve been given that honour to be representation for young black people, queer people, the LGBTQ family. I can now be that role model and that beacon of hope. It’s a lot of pressure, it’s a lot of weight on my shoulders, but I was doing it before, I’m doing it now and I’ll still do it then in the future. I’ll never stop being unapologetically who I am because that’s what people need to see to let them be who they are.

There’s a pressure on us as queer Black people in society to act in certain ways, that must be even more intense when you’re on TV.

Completely. It’s that thing of going, if this my closet, what do I want you to see. It’s like we’re all on Zoom, and what am I going to show you in my house? How much am I showing you and how much do I want the world to see of me? How much do I want to expose myself? If you don’t want to expose yourself, what’s the reason for not exposing yourself, because if it’s who you are, you can’t deny that. What happens behind closed doors happens behind closed doors, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show these doors.

I’m such a private person, I keep to myself and I will only show what I want to show. But this was something where I wanted to show myself and really strip myself down for the world to see. To show that you can be a private person, be reserved, but also open yourself up and allow people to see all sides of you.

Asttina in a long sheer dress with dramatic tiered skirt, in the style of Naomi Campbell

Asttina’s stunning Naomi Campbell runway. (BBC)

This is only the start for you though, so do you think you’ll continue sharing more?

Definitely. It’s like, when we had the conversation about representation of POC. There was this article where a woman spoke about – I won’t even go into it because it was a whole thing – but I just remember thinking, usually I’d look at something like this and I’d be like, OK, I’m going to move on. But I can’t now be quiet about this stuff. Because it’s a form of an attack on my life and my existence and my reality.

And also, she needs to be educated because she’s wrong. She’s not wrong in what she’s saying, because what she’s saying is valid, but her intentions and her understanding is wrong. And it’s things like this where I now have a duty to say something, to point things out. I have a platform to educate people. It’s good for me because I get to open myself up more about these things and allow people to see it.

And it’s such a hard time anyway, the situation we’re all living in. All of us have to be so reserved in our homes, because we can’t go outside. So it’s quite nice that I can open myself up and allow everyone to feel just human. I think that’s what it is, it’s feeling human, freedom, knowing every emotion you have is valid, considering this is such a hard time for everyone.

As well, [Drag Race UK] is an entertainment show. So we get to watch the glitz and glam, it makes you want to scream at the TV and you’re gagged by the outfits. It’s gay heaven!

Were you a big fan before you went on?

I’ve been watching since season one, since the beginning of time, and then I kinda stopped at around season eight just because my life got a bit crazy, I was doing my own thing. But you still have to watch it, it’s criminal to not watch Drag Race.

Where do you think your season ranks?

Everyone’s saying this is one of the best seasons ever, it’s so refreshing, it’s so new but it’s got that old-school vibe. I’ve heard people putting it around seasons four, five, six. It’s up there, which is great.

You’re on our side now, you’re watching as a fan. Who are you rooting for?

I’m here for them all, but I am biased. I’m rooting for Tayce and Bimini. But I think Veronica is a frontrunner. She isn’t here to play, she’s here to fight and take the crown. I can’t wait.

Before we go, I need to know who you’d have done for Snatch Game.

I had three choices: Mel B, Rickey Thompson, and if neither of those worked I was going to Azealia Banks. I had no idea how I was going to do her, all I knew was that having Azealia Banks on Snatch Game would have been one of the most controversial things you could probably have. It would make good TV!

Drag Race UK season two continues Thursdays on BBC iPlayer.