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Russia’s Drag Race knock-off, Royal Cobras
Via YouTube, Nastya Ivleeva

Activists say Russia’s Drag Race knock-off ignores LGBTQ+ issues

The show, titled Royal Cobras, features lip sync battles and fantastical runway looks, but critics say it fails to acknowledge the queer community that created drag culture

An influencer in Russia – a country notorious for its anti-LGTBQ+ views and laws – has launched a RuPaul’s Drag Race knock-off, featuring lip sync battles, camp comedy, and fantastical runway looks. One thing notably missing, say activists, is an acknowledgement of the issues faced by queer people in Russia, whose community created drag culture.

The drag competition series, called Royal Cobras, was launched by blogger and Instagram influencer Nastya Ivleeva, who also stars in the show. The series is described as “an epic lip sync tournament with 36 drag queens” – each episode will mark a qualifying round, in which six queens compete against each other. The winners of each round will then “meet each other in a final battle for the queen of the tournament title and 1000000 rubles” (approx £100k). According to The Moscow Times, to comply with Russia’s 2013 ban on “gay propaganda”, the first episode of the series opens with a disclaimer that the show “is not aimed at forming non-traditional sexual attitudes”.

“This show has nothing to do with the LGBTQ+ agenda in Russia because nowhere in the Royal Cobras was it said that this show was about LGBTQ+ people,” Nikita Andriyanov, an activist and the founder of Russian LGBTQ+ history project Izvestnye Tetki, told The Moscow Times.

Others have also criticised the fact that Ivleeva – who is straight – centres herself in the show, as opposed to the drag artists. In the first episode, Ivleeva joins the stage last after the other drag queens, making her entrance via a pole in the centre. She’s in gold, while the others are in pink, purple, and turquoise.

“The media writes that Nastya has been working with drag artists for a long time,” blogger, activist, and model Nikita Hi told Russian publication The Village ahead of the show’s premiere. “Nevertheless, I do not think that she should become the centre of attention.” Referencing the fact that all the judges are straight, Hi added: “It does not seem to me that the Russian stars invited to the jury will have enough competence to judge drag artists. I doubt the correctness of the fact that the work of LGBTQ+ people will be judged by heterosexual people.”

Also speaking to The Village, Andriyanov added: “Royal Cobras reduces drag culture to an absolutely superficial representation, which does not allow (for) solving the problem of homophobia or stigmatisation of the queer experience.”

Watch the first episode of Royal Cobras below.