Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault and harassment.
Is RuPaul’s Drag Race immune to the same issues we see in the entertainment industry? Apparently not.
Last Thursday, Buzzfeed News published an exposé on Season 12 contestant Sherry Pie (real name: Joey Gugliemelli). The article details how he catfished five actors (now seven) by posing as a casting director, Allison Mossie, who promised roles on Broadway and HBO if the actors sent various compromising and often sexual messages and audition tapes. One actor even paid to travel to New York City for a live audition and another almost turned down an offer to work with Disney Cruises!
The story broke after one of the actors, Ben Shimkus, wrote a Facebook post ahead of the second premiere episode. His detailed account of is similar to the others: Gugliemelli befriended and/or worked with these actors, referred them to “Allison” with the promise of a major role, and then manipulated their interest in order to get them to send videos.
According to Buzzfeed, after not responding to requests all day Thursday, “one minute before publication on Thursday evening, Gugliemelli posted [his apology] to Facebook.” You can read it here.
I want to take a moment to dissect this apology. Gugliemelli’s actions are unequivocally deplorable, exploitative, and disgusting. And he does nothing to atone for them! A good celebrity apology must a) be sincere b) not make excuses. Of course, working through mental health challenges is real and can be incredibly difficult on a person. But it’s no excuse to willfully deceive and cause hurt to people, and that’s what it’s being leveraged as here.
Plus, note the timing of the apology. Posting one minute before an article about your predatory actions is published probably means you’re not motivated by genuine feelings of remorse. Especially if that article comes one day before your debut on national TV. Plus, if RuPaul’s Drag Race was truly the catalyst for re-examining your life, then this apology probably should have come a lot earlier when they finished filming the season.
Unfortunately, Sherry Pie’s isn’t the only story to unfold over the weekend. Brita (Filter) (real name: Jesse Havea) also took to Facebook, and vehemently denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a man claiming to be his ex-drag daughter. Although details are still emerging, the currently anonymous accuser posted about Havea in 2018, well before his Season 12 drag fame.
As the story continues to develop and in light of what happened with Sherry Pie, one thing remains clear: #MeToo is still a relevant and important hashtag in 2020. This story reminds us that sexual assault happens across gender, sexuality, and race. That power, privilege, and opportunity can be wielded dangerously. That aspiring actors are still vulnerable to exploitation in the industry. It’s an important reminder that there’s still work to be done.
On a positive note, it has been amazing to see the Drag Race and broader LGBTQ community rally behind the victims. Rather than wallowing in the details or berating Sherry Pie (although there is still some of that), many of the fans have instead chosen to pretend like she was never on the season, often to a comedic effect. Here are some of my favourite examples:
VH1 and World of Wonder, the production company for Drag Race, announced that Sherry Pie would be disqualified from the competition and that she would not appear in the grand finale, which will be filmed later this spring. However, out of respect for the other contestants, the show will air as filmed and edited. When the promo was released, I named Sherry Pie as one of the runner-ups, making her at least top 5.
Rumour has it that Sherry places high in Season 12, and I’ve even read that she makes it to the top four. I’ve never wanted to be more wrong, but if true, this will make watching Season 12 challenging, especially for the above victims. I wonder, will this change RuPaul’s vetting process? As the show grows in popularity and drag queens emerge as celebrities in their own right, perhaps the show will need to start searching closets to see what skeletons are Heidi N there.