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Asifa Lahore
Asifa Lahore wears leather dress by Diesel Black Gold; shearling coat by Burberry ProrsumPhotography Sarah Piantadosi; styling Elizabeth Fraser-Bell

A film about Muslim drag queens got taken by a white guy

Kieran Yates’ short about empowering queens was so popular it got pinched – here’s why it’s bad

Dazed contributor and filmmaker Kieran Yates worked for “what feels like half my life” on a pet project. The result was short film Muslim Drag Queens, an impactful look at an outstanding community of minority queens. It took the internet by storm. The film, created for The Guardian, centres on Ali – a Pakistani asylum-seeker arduously prepping for his drag debut. Also featured is Asifa Lahore, Britain’s first out gay Muslim drag queen. The film brings into focus some incredibly charming figureheads of the Gaysian community and lifts the lid on what is, according to many, a "taboo" lifestyle.

When it first aired back in January this year it proved immensely popular, billed by commentors as “heartwarming” and “brilliant” and praised by many for shining a light on the scene. But Yates wasn’t the only one who spotted the audience’s hunger.

The short film is now being turned into a full-on documentary; Ali and Asif’s stories will be majestically narrated by Sir Ian McKellan for Channel 4’s Muslim Drag Queens. “There is a whole community that is living in Britain which is hidden,” Lahore says in the doc’s press release. “Now is the time to come out. You’ve got to be big. You’ve got to be bold. And you’ve got to have balls of steel.”

It sounds like a winner. However, Kieran Yates, the mastermind behind the original film, is mysteriously not involved in the project. It was pitched to the network by her director Marcus Plowright without her knowledge.

What’s worse? This story about minority voices and their struggles and triumphs now rests in the hands of white men. “This is a perfect example of an institution being happy to publish "edgy", minority stories and pat themselves on the back for being ~diverse~, but when it goes viral/is well-received will quite happily exclude the very people who gave them the stories and prevent their voices from being heard,” says Yates.

“It is crucial that minorities are allowed to tell their stories. It’s our capital,” Yates continues. “I am angry that has been taken away from me here. It is unacceptable that "minorities" are used for their insight and first-hand experience into worlds which the mainstream can’t access. There is a huge problem with minorities like me being left out of stories that they have found//helped develop. This is unacceptable practice.”

It has gotta suck to have your work pulled out from underneath you, your voice silenced and then replaced by one ill-equipped to tell the story in an appropriate way. We reached out to Yates with questions, who has vowed to continue to "shout about unethical practice" and we’ll update the story as appropriate.

Channel 4 reached us with their side of the story. "We wholly reject any suggestion that we have excluded Ms Yates from the production process or credits based on her ethnic background or otherwise," said a spokesperson. "Ms Yates was not involved and has not made any contribution, at any stage, to the production of this Channel 4 documentary. The film we have commissioned is editorially independent of the original short film Ms Yates worked on for Guardian Films.

Ms Yates signed over all her rights to Guardian Films on their short film. The production team behind the Channel 4 film worked hard, over six months, to establish their own relationships and negotiate the extensive access that has allowed this sensitive and important film to be made."