Former Canada’s Drag Race judge Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman is opening up about his negative experience working on the show and the “shocking” amount of racism and bullying he encountered from viewers.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the actor explained that he initially took the judging gig because he had such a positive experience appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race in the U.S. However, he encountered something completely different working with Canadian independent production company Crave.
“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, but this was a different set of producers,” he said.
While some international versions of Drag Race are either produced or co-produced by World of Wonder, Crave and Toronto studio Blue Ant Media handle the Canadian franchise. Bowyer-Chapman believes the production team was trying to create something impactful and prove themselves along the way, but he regrets not listening to his intuition and speaking up.
There were early moments in production that made Bowyer-Chapman feel uncomfortable, example being when a white, gay, male showrunner pulled him aside saying he was ‘man-candy’ and there for the ‘queens too drool over.’
“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,” he explained. “That we would have no personal relationships, dialogue, or contact with the queens whatsoever, other than when we were filming. But coming into the Werk Room, 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.”
Allegedly, the same showrunner told Bowyer-Chapman that he was also meant to be the ‘sassy one’ one the judges panel.
“Being told that from a white person, ever, as a Black person, it’s like a dog whistle,” he 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.”
Bowyer-Chapman continued his talk with THR saying the judges wore earpieces for producers to feed them prompts, primarily negative critiques. Even if the judges had nothing negative to say, they were pushed to say something.
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. When the show aired, he saw how he was coming off noticeably harsher than the other judges.
“I remember watching the first episode on the couch with my partner,” he recalled. “By the time the credits rolled, I had 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 received instant backlash from the Drag Race fandom.
“The amount of times that I was called a stupid n*gg** 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.”
Fan favorite contestant Jimbo and season one winner Priyanka both spoke with Entertainment Weekly defending Bowyer-Chapman.
“Jeffrey is the sweetest and was so invested in our growth and gave us great advice,” Priyanka said. “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 was asked to return for the franchise’s second season. While attending production meetings with Crave and Blue Ant Media, he called out a lot of the “bullshit” that occurred behind the scenes.
Ultimately, he chose not to return due to the COVID-19 pandemic and landing a role on Doogie Kamealoha, M.D., a Disney+ dramedy where he will star as an openly queer doctor.
Canada’s Drag Race season two will premiere October 14.