I’m an avid RuPaul’s Drag Race fan. It’s like my sport. I know it’s been super problematic in the past, with instances of transphobia and racial insensitivity, yet it still continued to bring me joy (because problematic faves are definitely a thing). But I was incredibly disappointed in the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, when the offensiveness hit really close to home.
For those who don’t know, RuPaul’s Drag Race is basically America’s Next Top Model for drag queens. And in All Stars, RuPaul picks queens from previous seasons who didn’t win and invites them back to compete again.
On last week’s episode, the queens were challenged to do celebrity impersonations. One queen, Manila Luzon, chose to impersonate Barbra Streisand. And she did not hold back. To complete the look, along with a blonde wig and that iconic winged eyeliner, Manila donned a giant prosthetic nose. You know, the kind of nose that’s often associated negatively with Jews.
To me, it looked more like an anti-Semitic caricature than Barbra Streisand. What’s worse — Manila won the challenge and the anti-Semitic stereotype was never addressed.
While live-Tweeting about the episode using the hashtag #AllStars4, it seemed I was the only one who noticed or cared at the time. I was met with Manila fans telling me to “get over it,” because it “wasn’t offensive.”
IT’S DRAG MAMA!!!! If you’re offended with a prosthetic nose you need to find a new show to watch sis
— Tyler Wallach (@tylerwallach) December 29, 2018
Luckily, the next day, I saw more people discussing it.
idk this just feels kinda anti semitic, i expected better from manila idk pic.twitter.com/Lhr67wxes9
— lexa (@alcxas) December 27, 2018
As a fan of Manila’s, I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. As a Jew, I can’t ignore this. If the nose actually looked anything like Barbra’s, I wouldn’t have minded as much. It was so much bigger, so much more beak-like, and reminded me of a Merchant of Venice caricature. pic.twitter.com/n2nXJxulEq
— Sarah DeRupo🏳️🌈 (@sarah_derupo) December 29, 2018
Looking at Manila’s Twitter page, it’s clear she’s a Streisand fan and probably didn’t mean to make a mockery of Jews in general. But impact matters more than intent. Manila is a queen from NYC, a place with a whole lot of Jews (and a whole lot of anti-Semitic hate crimes). Do we really need someone furthering hateful stereotypes right now? Moreover, this is by no means the first time Manila has done something unsavory. Back on her original season, she was met with criticism for portraying an Asian stereotype during a challenge.
To me, Manila’s impersonation of Streisand went beyond poking fun at one particular Jewish woman. While Barbra Streisand may be known for her nose, exaggerating it like that left me feeling incredibly uneasy. In fact, a Jewish friend of mine (and a fellow Drag Race fan) took issue with other parts of Manila’s imitation of Streisand as well.
“She also did a ‘Coffee Talk’ voice that doesn’t sound like Barbra at all,” she told me. “It’s just how people make fun of Jews.”
At the end of the day, it’s pretty lazy to rely on stereotypes of a particular racial or ethnic group to impersonate a celebrity of that race or ethnicity. This being All Stars, I expected to see more clever and dynamic performances from the queens. At the very least, I would like to see Manila acknowledge the harm she’s caused by normalizing an anti-Semitic caricature in her portrayal of a Jewish icon.
Header image via Reddit.