THE HISTORY OF DRAG IN FRANCENovember 2, 2023 2023-11-16 10:59
THE HISTORY OF DRAG IN FRANCE
THE HISTORY OF DRAG IN FRANCE
The official countdown to Drag Race France’s season 2 finale has started! RuPaul’s Drag Race, a French franchise, has gained significant attention in just two seasons, showcasing the unique talents of French drag. This summary provides a history lesson on French drag, its current portrayal in France, and its immense popularity and success, preparing for the finale.
QUEER CULTURE IN FRANCE
Before diving into the topic of French drag and how it came to be, we have to talk about France’s queer history and culture. You may already be thinking of Gay Paree…
In his piece, Paris is Gay, Gender and sexuality historian Andrew Lear examines the little-known but crucial gay past of Paris. France decriminalized homosexuality in 1798, far ahead of other nations, which allowed queer culture and art a lot more time to develop and become mainstream. He lists this as one of the explanations for why so many great gay writers—including Proust, Cocteau, and Colette—were able to make a name for themselves in French literature and why so many gay writers from Anglophone nations—including Walde, Stein, and Baldwin—were drawn to Paris.
THE HISTORY OF DRAG
The history of drag varies greatly and is largely dependent on our definition of the term. Arnaud Alessandrin, a sociologist at the University of Bordeaux, explains that there isn’t a single, “universal definition” for drag but rather three categories in which it can be classified:
Genre transformation, a creative and theatrical practice, is prevalent in television, cabarets, theaters, and militant artistic organizations. It deconstructs genre conventions and is occasionally seen in festivals and nightclubs.
Keeping these classifications in mind, Alessendrin identifies three historical occurrences that shaped modern drag culture. At that time, women were not allowed to perform.
Despite their widespread influence, these performers have a significant impact on French drag history. They became real-life celebrities by transforming themselves with the help of hair, makeup, and costumes; they frequently alternated between them.
Lastly, Alessandrin notes that the 1990s represent a pivotal period in the history of drag. France’s HIV/AIDS pandemic heightened homophobia and discrimination against queer individuals, influencing political art forms and bringing drag into the global mainstream through movies like The Adventures of Priscilla.
Go further through film:
- 120 BPM: Robin Campillo’s film follows the Parisian chapter of Act Up as they navigate the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. The film debuted at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and was awarded the Grand Prix, and went on to win numerous other awards from institutions all over the world. !
- Victor/Victoria: A joyful musical farce starring Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, and Leslie Ann Warren. Blake Edwards, the director, describes the plot best: “A woman, pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman?”.
- La Cage aux Folles: The manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and his star attraction, are a gay couple. Madness ensues when his straight son brings home a fiancée and her ultra-conservative parents to meet them. The inspiration for the nightclub was a real-life Paris cabaret: Cabaret Michou!
THE CURRENT STATE OF FRENCH DRAG
Drag performers in the US have established a strong community, popularizing drag culture through popular TV shows like Drag Race, which has gained recognition within the queer community. RuPaul is perhaps the most well-known drag queen in the world—or rather, the Queen of Drag.
Drag in France isn’t nearly as well-known as it is in the US, and it doesn’t look quite the same. The background of transformiste art in France is one problem the community has encountered. Drag performers find it difficult to distinguish themselves from the enduringly popular, sentimental cabaret shows, despite their differences.
Having said all of this, drag has become increasingly popular in France, and performers are trying to create their own communities and venues for self-expression. Among them are drag queens.
Since 1946, Madame Arthur has served as Paris’s first drag cabaret.
DRAG RACE FRANCE
Many credit the recent rise in popularity of drag in France to the release of Drag Race France. This might not be surprising, considering how successful Drag Race has been, but other franchises of the show haven’t been as successful. One reason for Drag Race’s popularity might be its host and one of the judges, the beloved Nicky Doll. Nicky is a French drag queen herself, and competed on season 12 of Drag Race. While she didn’t win the competition, she was a fan-favorite. The first French season was an instant hit. After it ended, the queens got together for a reunion episode called “The Phenomenon of Drag Race France: 1 Year with the Queens”.
The second season of Drag Race France has not disappointed. Viewers have continued to love Nicky Doll as a judge, thanks to her own experience as a competitor. The season has been light on drama, but filled with plenty of heartfelt moments. Just four queens are left in the competition: Keiona, Mami Watta, Punani and Sara Forever.