Why Drag Race season 15 is the show’s most important yet
Forget issues with editing, squashed running times or bitter cast feuds: RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15 has transcended all the drama to remind us all why now, more than ever, the world needs this show.
The general reception to a regular US edition of Drag Race has become more lukewarm as the franchise has grown: The days of one season per year and one All Stars season every four are long behind us, and complaints of over-saturation abound, particularly concerning the number of international series.
Queens from most, if not all, recent seasons have to fight for their lives on social media should they say something that a “has-been twink” (Mistress Isabelle Brooks’ words, not ours) deems unacceptable. Dodgy judging choices and challenges inch fans ever closer to turning off for good and sometimes the programme is just too predictable (the top four this time round could be pretty accurately guessed after the first few episodes).
And yet, despite all that and more, the show continues to be a vital beacon of visibility almost a decade and a half after it first aired.
There has never been a more timely period of the zeitgeist for Drag Race to have a top four that contains an unapologetically confident Black queen, a “big girl” whose personality level is matched only by her talent, a Filipino-Japanese-Puerto Rican-German bombshell and, perhaps most crucially, Sasha Colby.
It’s not exactly groundbreaking news to state that this is not a great time to be a trans person, or a drag artist. As someone who is both, the impact it would have were Colby to be crowned season 15’s winner cannot be overstated.
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Imagine what that could do for a trans child living in one of the many states currently passing anti-trans bills, making it difficult for them to access gender-affirming healthcare? To simply see that there is someone on TV like them, succeeding because of who she is, not in spite of it.
Colby has, for want of a better phrase, peed all over the competition. To see her celebrated in the way she has been is as much a political statement as it is an objective assessment of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent – and that’s something that even a 40-minute runtime could dampen.
Of course, the same can be said for Luxx Noir London, Mistress Isabelle Brooks and Anetra. It’s rare that a queen such as Luxx, a child of the Drag Race generation with a personality beyond that, has appeared on the show with such confidence and self-assuredness. Her season-long rivalry with perennially “robbed” queen Loosey LaDuca was not a particularly fun watch – it was certainly no “party city” or “Valentina, your smile is beautiful” – but it was a litmus test to reveal how the general public might have reacted had the roles been reversed. It’s doubtful that a confident young white queen would have received the same amount of backlash that Luxx did.
Every one of the top four has held a mirror up to some facet of a problem facing society today. Anetra’s discussion about broken families and the complications of mixed heritage will resonate with so many viewers, and Mistress’s tale of finding family within the queer community after being exiled by her biological one is, unfortunately, still being mirrored all over the world.
Drag Race as a show has historically had a hit-and-miss track record with reading the room, but it’s not just the contestants that bring these important topics to the table: The Rusical episode, in which queens performed a Footloose-inspired, Kevin Bacon-approved tale of a town that banned drag, somehow managed to land around the same time that Tennessee passed its own draconian drag ban.
Just a week later, a makeover episode for teachers dedicated to creating a safe environment for queer kids aired just before Kansas’s hideous anti-trans bill that will possibly permit “genital inspections” of children in schools.
Outside the show, Drag Race alumni have been some of the most vocal celebrities when it comes to drawing public attention to the rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ hate: Jinkx Monsoon, BenDeLaCreme, Sasha Velour and others have taken to the airwaves and continued to make an impact with the platform given to them by the show. And, thank heavens, the usually averse-to-addressing-controversy RuPaul even stepped up to the plate to urge fans to help “get these stunt queens out of office”.
All in all, RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15 is the show’s most important season yet – if not by virtue of its production, then by the state of the world that has watched it.
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