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Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman says there was 'shady' culture behind the scenes at Canada's Drag Race

·5 min read

Right on the heels of the season 2 cast being announced, former Canada's Drag Race judge Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman is opening up about the negative experience he had working on the show and the "shocking" amount of racist bullying he encountered from viewers.

Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, the UnREAL actor explained that he first took the gig coming off a positive experience appearing on RuPaul's Drag Race in the U.S., but encountered something different working with an independent production team up north. "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," World of Wonder, co-headed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, "but this was a different set of producers."

Canada’s Drag Race
Canada’s Drag Race

Bell Media ‘Canada’s Drag Race’ season 1 judges Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Brooke Lynn Hytes, and Stacey McKenzie.

While some international versions of Drag Race are produced or co-produced by World of Wonder, Crave and Toronto studio Blue Ant Media partnered to handle daily production of Canada's Drag Race. "I think they were trying to create something impactful and prove themselves along the way," Bowyer-Chapman said of the new production team. "As so, there are many instances where looking back I should have paid attention to my intuition and spoken up. And I didn't."

The actor pointed out early moments in production he said made him uncomfortable, such as when a "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," he said.

"All of the judges had signed these very ironclad contracts stating that we would not fraternize with any of the contestants or the crew off-set," and also "that we would have no personal relationships, or dialogue, or contact with the queens whatsoever, other than when we were filming," he explained. But coming into the Work Room, "the queens were flirting with me and being suggestive in some ways. My walls went up immediately," he recalled. "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."

Bowyer-Chapman said the same showrunner told him he was meant to be the "sassy one" on the judging panel. "Being told that from a white person, ever, as a Black person, it's like a dog whistle." He elaborated: "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 said judges wore earpieces for producers to feed them prompts, notably negative critiques. "Even if we didn't have anything negative to say, you had to come up with something negative." And during post-production, he said he was given a list of pre-written negative critiques to record, which he thought meant he was coming off too nice in the edit, but found that was not the case when the show aired with him coming off noticeably harsher than the other judges. "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."

"After playing a reality TV show producer on UnREAL for four seasons, and spending time behind the scenes with reality TV show producers, I was aware of how dark and how shady that world can be," Bowyer-Chapman said, explaining how it felt like he fell for the same tricks his character on the Lifetime series pulled on others.

The backlash to Bowyer-Chapman as a judge was swift and grueling. "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," he said. "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."

Producers for Canada's Drag Race and World of Wonder have not returned EW request for comment.

In an interview with EW while the season was airing, fan-favorite queen Jimbo defended Bowyer-Chapman from fan backlash. "He was playing a character as a judge on a show about judging drag queens. He did his job, which was to judge people!" Season 1 winner Priyanka also told EW, "Jeffrey is the sweetest and was so invested in our growth and gave us great advice. Of course, you want to see the shady comments from the judges because that's what makes for good TV! It doesn't mean that he's a bad judge and an awful human being and should go kill himself."

Bowyer-Chapman told The Hollywood Reporter that support from Crave felt a bit too little too late, and dealt with the hate he received from viewers by leaning on Black queer peers like RuPaul and Todrick Hall for support, saying Ru is actually the one who advised he leave Twitter entirely.

He said he was asked to return as a judge for season 2, and attended some production meetings with Crave and Blue Ant Media where he said he "called a lot of attention to the bulls--- that occurred behind the scenes and the stuff that happened online and their inaction."

Ultimately, he chose not to return due to the COVID-19 pandemic and landing a role on Doogie Kamealoha, M.D., in which he'll be breaking new ground, starring as an openly queer doctor the Disney+ dramedy.

The Canada's Drag Race season 2 judging panel will consist of returning judge (and RuPaul's Drag Race season 11 finalist) Brooke Lynn Hytes, actress Amanda Brugel, style superstar Brad Goreski, and TV personality Traci Melchor.

Subscribe toEW's BINGE podcast for full recaps of RuPaul's Drag Race, including our new season diving into all five All Stars seasons, featuring exclusive interviews with Jujubee, Alexis Mateo, Shea Couleé, Alaska, Detox, BenDeLaCreme, Kennedy Davenport, and more. And be sure to catch up on our BINGE recaps of RuPaul's Drag Race seasons 1-13 with Symone, Jaida Essence Hall, Trixie Mattel, Katya, Peppermint, Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen, Sasha Velour, and more!

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