After Controversial Stint on 'Canada's Drag Race,' Former Judge Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman Speaks Out

Thursday September 16, 2021

Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman  (Source:Instagram)

Out actor Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman got a lot of online heat for his time serving as a judge on the first "Canada's Drag Race" last year. After receiving intense online backlash for his critiques towards the competing drag queens, Bowyer-Chapman eventually deleted his Twitter account and announced he would not be returning for Season 2, saying it was due to a scheduling conflict as he was shooting the Disney+ show "Doogie Kameāloha, M.D."

But in a new and lengthy interview with The Hollywood Reporter published online Thursday, the "UnREAL" star opens up about his time on "Canada's Drag Race" for the first time since the show ended and reflected on the online vitriol that he received.

"But the dream quickly turned into a glittery nightmare, when Bowyer-Chapman — whose tart critiques of contestants rubbed some viewers the wrong way — felt the full force of 'Drag Race''s toxic fandom," THR writes.

The article goes on: "For a show all about acceptance and inclusivity — about spotlighting queerness and toasting life's outcasts and oddballs — 'Drag Race,' too, has been a frustratingly fertile breeding ground for bullying and hate...To be sure, they are in the minority of 'Drag Race' fans. But en masse their voices can be deafening, a faceless mob of scolds and trolls whose targeted attacks — typically directed at drag queen competitors but in Bowyer-Chapman's case against a new judge — have only increased in intensity as the franchise has blossomed into both a critical darling and cultural sensation."

Bowyer-Chapman told the site: "The amount of times that I was called a stupid n—er in my inbox from white, gay men was shocking — specifically because we were in the midst of a racial justice awakening. I think that with me receiving all of the hate, and racism, and harassment, and death threats — it's shone a light on the insanity of it. It really did show a lot of people how dark and how toxic the 'Drag Race' trolls have become over the past couple of years and how unacceptable it is."

The 36-year-old actor and model went on to say he was surprised to be facing this kind of hate from the gay community.

"As gay men, we unfortunately have grown accustomed to experiencing hate and vitriol and homophobia," he said. "I guess I had just never experienced it from my own community. That was the part that was most heartbreaking."

In the article, it is explained the day-to-day production of "Canada's Race" isn't by World of Wonder, the production company behind the hit reality show, "but to Crave and Blue Ant Media, a Toronto studio behind reality shows like 'Cabin Truckers' and 'Killing Bigfoot.' (Ownership of international versions varies. Some, like 'Canada's Drag Race,' are a format license, while some are co-produced and some are World of Wonder-produced.) Bowyer-Chapman says he immediately felt something different in the air on the Toronto set."

"I came into 'Canada's Drag Race' with a false sense of security because I had built that trust with the producers of the American show," Bowyer-Chapman went on to explain. "But this was a different set of producers. And I think they were trying to create something impactful and prove themselves along the way. As so, there are many instances where looking back I should have paid attention to my intuition and spoken up. And I didn't."

He goes on to say that even though he and the other judges "signed these very ironclad contracts stating that we would not fraternize with any of the contestants or the crew off-set" and "[t]hat we would have no personal relationships, or dialogue, or contact with the queens whatsoever, other than when we were filming" he was told to meet the queens in the Werk Room. He told THR that the "white, gay, male showrunner pulled me aside, right before I was to meet the queens for the first time, and told me I was the 'man-candy that was there for the queens to drool over.'"

Bowyer-Chapman also said that "the queens were flirting with me and being suggestive in some ways. My walls went up immediately. I realized there were different expectations being put on me that were not being placed on the rest of the cast, and nobody was going to protect me."

In order to resist objectification, Bowyer-Chapman says he decided to lean into being queer and brought his own makeup artist for his glam rock-inspired eye makeup and "adding affectations — a shoulder pop here, a mispronunciation of 'dollars' as 'doo-lahs' there — that online critics later snipped had pulled too freely from RuPaul's playbook," THR writes. "He says the same showrunner explained to him that he was the 'sassy one' on the panel."

"And being told that from a white person, ever, as a Black person, it's like a dog whistle," Bowyer-Chapman said. "It's like what is said of Black women and of Black queer men, meaning that you're the hot-headed, opinionated one who's going to tell it like it is and not give a shit about what anybody has to say. And that's not who I am."

He went on to say that no one behind the camera was Black, telling THR, "There really was no Black talent. We're walking onto a set of 'Canada's Drag Race, day one, and the showrunner is telling me how diverse the crew was as he was giving me a tour. And I didn't see one Black person."

Bowyer-Chapman said that in postproduction, he was given pre-written negative critiques to say into am microphone.

"Very naively, I thought, they must just be doing this because they gave me the bubblegum edit," he said. "Because there was endless footage of me connecting with the queens and being loving and kind and guiding them."

THR adds that the "edit proved to be far from bubblegum, however, with one outlet going so far as to describe Bowyer-Chapman as bringing 'Simon Cowell-with-eye-glitter energy' to the proceedings." The actor went on to say that he was shocked at the depiction of himself on TV.

"I remember watching the first episode on the couch with my partner. And by the time the credits rolled, just feeling this pit in my stomach," he told THR. After a few episodes aired, he called producers to ask if the tone would continue for the rest of the season. "And they guaranteed us that no, it wouldn't, and that they were just finding their way for the first episode and what have you. So I let it go," he said.

One critique against fan-favorite queen Jimbo was turned into a GIF and later a Change.org petition to remove Bowyer-Chapman from the show surfaced. THR spoke with Jimbo about the critiques.

"At first, he was so handsome and so charming and so sweet," Jimbo says of Bowyer-Chapman. "But then the judgment started rolling out, and I was like, 'Oh, OK. You did not come to play.'" Jimbo added that he thinks part of the negativity came from the early months of the pandemic. "It was just not the right fit with the times, that stereotypical harsh judge — the Simon Cowell, tough-love judge. I don't think him playing up that campy bitchiness was the best way to go about it all."

Like fellow queens, Jimbo denounced the social media harassment.

"I obviously felt terrible it was happening when it was supposed to be a celebration of drag and art," he said. "That was intense."

Bowyer-Chapman also said race played in to the hate he faced as well, saying that host and fellow judge Brooke Lynn Hytes, "RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 11 runner-up, didn't get the same kind of backlash despite handing out harsh comments to the queens.

"There was a lot that I experienced that Brooke Lynn just couldn't have because Brooke Lynn is a white man," he explained. "Myself, as a Black queer man, my inbox was flooded with people telling me I was too mean, I didn't know what I was talking about. Just a lot of blatant racism. Their public profiles read 'Black Lives Matter,' but their DMs were all about how my Black life didn't matter."

He added: "All of us were locked in our homes, riddled with anxiety ... and then to be experiencing this hate and verbal violence and emotional assaults, this just blatant racism at the same time from my own community? It was really hard."

Crave and Blue Ant Media gave a statement to THR, saying, "Jeffrey is a gifted talent whose energy, skills and passion unquestionably contributed to the success of the inaugural season of 'Canada's Drag Race' on Crave. He will always be considered part of the 'Canada's Drag Race' family." A source close to production also told THR that Bowyer-Chapman signed off on the first three episodes before they aired and that the postproduction comments were "not a list of negative comments."

Additionally, Blue Ant Media's chief creative officer and an EP of "Canada's Drag Race" Laura Michalchyshyn told THR: "We consider Jeffrey a part of our family, and when he came under attack on social media during last season, we were horrified at the hateful abuse he was forced to endure. In addition to clearly and publicly condemning that bullying, we sought to stand with him by blocking and deleting inappropriate and vile racist comments."

Though WOW nor RuPaul gave a statement on the situation, THR writes that Bowyer-Chapman still has good relationships with them both and he's already recorded an appearance on an upcoming season of "RuPaul's Drag Race."

Bowyer-Chapman said RuPaul also offered him words of advice on the situation and he suggested he leave Twitter — a similar move Ru made himself early in the pandemic.

"We had conversations about his experience in this world and this industry as a Black, queer man. As a drag queen," he said. "All the hate and trolling and vitriol he's experienced his entire life. And it's really heartbreaking, but he's experienced it for so many years and he's so clear-headed about it. He has learned to not take it personally."

He also heard from singer Todrick Hall, a frequent guest judge on "Drag Race."

"He talked about the hate he'd receive from white gay men," Bowyer-Chapman said. "The thing we all had in common — myself, Ru and Todrick — is we realized that white people, specifically white gay men in this situation, don't like opinionated Black people. They have a hard time being told what to do from a Black person, especially when you are not fitting into the fetishized ideal. For them, if you're not being hyper-masculine — a piece of meat, essentially — then you have no use." He added that things finally clicked for him and "it made putting up that boundary between me and the trolls an easy decision."

Though he's not returning for Season 2, he did attend a number of production meetings and "called a lot of attention to the bullshit that occurred behind the scenes and the stuff that happened online and their inaction." And in August 2020, Crave issued a statement condemning "hateful comments about our queens and judges online" but Bowyer-Chapman said the move came too late. The situation led to the hiring of a producer for the judges panel while the showrunner will work with contestants, however.

"In light of the social media attacks and bullying that Jeffrey experienced during season one, we put measures in place to mitigate this for future seasons. This includes a dedicated social media consultant to work with Crave to continue monitoring conversations in real time," Crave said in a statement.

Nevertheless, Bowyer-Chapman said he isn't sure the show learned from its mistakes.

"I think that there are a lot of other choices out there in Canada that would have been much more appropriate," he said. "There's a lot of Indigenous talent that has gone unrecognized; a lot of trans and nonbinary talent. People of color beyond Black people. There's West Indians. I think [season one winner] Priyanka would have been a brilliant choice to have replaced me on the judges' panel. There's so many obvious choices if they had had the reference points. But that's what happens when it's only white, cisgender people behind the scenes making the decisions. That's what happens."

Elsewhere in the interview, Bowyer-Chapman opens up about his personal life, growing up in Canada, and his role on Disney+ show "Doogie Kameāloha, M.D." Click here to read the full THR interview.