Update: a previous version of this story reported the series featured no queer contestants.
Television producers in Russia have launched their own knockoff version of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and already the show has attracted harsh criticism. Besides its obvious borrowing of the Drag Race premise, activists have attacked the show for ignoring the plight of queer people in Eastern Europe.
Royal Cobras launched on YouTube last week, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain other drag-themed competition series. The show comes complete with lipsync battles, campy comedy and lavish fashion, as well as features a judging panel of mostly straight celebrities. The show is the brainchild of Nastya Ivleeva, a Russian Instagramer and blogger. Queer rights activists have blasted the series, charging it with cultural appropriation.
“For me, this show has nothing to do with the LGBT agenda in Russia, because nowhere in the Royal Cobras was it said that this show was about LGBT people,” activist Nikita Andriyanov told The Moscow Times. Andriyanov founded the queer rights activist group Tetki in Russia.
He further charged the series “belittles human dignity.”
“The main problem lies in the silence,” Andriyanov said, “hence the feeling that LGBT people have never existed and that all this is ‘just show business.’ The only thing this show can do for the community is that drag queens can get their moment of fame and possibly earn more followers on Instagram.”
Despite the backlash from the LGBTQ community for a lack of representation, Royal Cobras has also taken steps to shield itself from Russia’s harsh anti-LGBTQ censorship laws. The first episode of the series features a disclaimer that says the show is “not aimed at former nontraditional sexual attitudes.”
Russian crackdown on LGBTQ people hit a new level of furor beginning in 2013 with the passage of harsh, discriminatory laws banning “gay propaganda.” That move has led to further oppressive laws, including a ban on marriage equality and adoption by same-sex couples. Most recently, the government proposed a new restriction that would define all LGBTQ people as “extremists.”