Even though it pays homage to regal characters like Eva “Evita” Peron and Princess Diana, RuPaul’s Drag Race is, at its heart, a program about clashing with political correctness. As RuPaul has stated several times when the show was under attack, drag is a statement against the mainstream — along with all of the societal rules that come along with it.
But despite this banner of non-conformity, RuPaul has also created a show that promotes multiculturalism. Only three of the show’s nine winners are white. Last season’s top three featured queens of color across the board. Even though this message has been deviated from — like Manila Luzon’s tone-deaf impression of a Chinese person — it’s surprising to see the way they’ve completely decontextualized Evita, the famed wife of enduring Argentine political figure Juan Domingo Peron.
In a recent episode, where contestants performed a short musical as famous “bad b***hes from HERstory,” some Argentine fans took umbrage with the fact that Eva “Evita” Peron was essentially reduced to a walking cliché of a Caribbean, or more specifically Cuban — two terms that don’t even distantly encompass the actress-turned-activist’s culture.
Ah no quise spoilear pero en Drag Race hicieron a Evita y LE PUSIERON UNA RUMBA estoy indignado morite Lucian Piane sexy incapaz.
— federico (@madeofchalk) September 9, 2016
“I don’t want to post spoilers, but on Drag Race they did Evita and PUT ON A RUMBA. I’m furious. Go die, Lucien Piane (the Drag Race composer).”
— Mau (@Mauro_mvet) September 9, 2016
“Evita didn’t deserve this, RuPaul.”
You can’t really fault the queen who played her, Roxxxy Andrews. Not only did she get the hair color right (Evita dyed her hair blonde at a young age and maintained it for the rest of her life), but the form-fitting skirt suit she donned nailed the Argentine icon’s signature look. Also to her credit, the Drag Race competitor managed to get in Peron’s most famous gesture — hands raised to the sky saying, “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.”
— Rai Storia (@RaiStoria) August 22, 2016
Rather it was the music that RuPaul’s team supplied for Roxxxy that really grated on the senses. Though Evita was born in poverty in the province of Las Pampas, she moved to Buenos Aires at the age of 15 around 1934, when tango was already in full swing as the dominant music style. Peron would have been living her first years in the capital when Carlos Gardel, the most prominent figure of the first wave of tango, died in a plane clash near Medellín, Colombia.
Despite that, Drag Race decided to travel a few thousand miles to the north and give Evita something like this to dance to:
Suffice to say, from a historical perspective, it would make sense for Evita’s short number to be in the style of tango. That’s not even mentioning the fact that it’s unequivocally the country’s biggest musical export, perhaps its biggest cultural export of all, aside from Peron herself. Even RuPaul’s Drag Race itself is no doubt familiar with the genre: It was used on Season 7 in a dance competition featuring All Stars 2 frontrunner Katya and that season’s winner, Violet Chachki.
Yet instead of deciding to go with something innocuous, the composers of this particular tribute to Evita went with a tune straight out of a Chiquita banana commercial, a 1950s sitcom interpretation of what everything south of the American border looks and sounds like. Yes, it’s true that this caricature version of Peron stands alongside a raunchy Princess Diana and a Catherine the Great who rides a stick horse across the stage, but the choice of music isn’t for laughs: It feels at best lazy, and at worst, a little disrespectful.
— SocialMedia Odyssey (@smmodyssey) August 7, 2016
As has often been said on the show, “a lot could be forgiven if you were funny.” The same is true for the unimpressive Evita bit. Peron’s life is rife with low-hanging fruit for jokes, some of them seemingly tailored for drag’s iconoclastic nature. For instance, something could have been worked in with Argentina’s infamous sheltering of Nazi war criminals following World War II. Instead, the lyrics basically recount — badly — the plot of Evita, paying two references to “doing it better than Madonna.”
It’s inevitable that any historical figure is going to come loaded, especially when you’re camping it up for a reality TV show about drag queens, but it appears the RuPaul’s Drag Race crew made no effort to land those jokes with any precision. In the case of Eva “Evita” Peron’s treatment, there was no daring, there was no sharpness — just a misinformed ode to one of Latin America’s most famous women that seemed pitifully ignorant of geography.
[Image via Frederick M. Brown and Keystone Archive/Getty Images]