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In ‘Drag Den,’ platform and pageantry blend seamlessly

4 min readIn Drag Den, the people behind and in front of the camera proved that the G in glamour also stands for grit, and here's why.
Profile picture of Mharla Francesca Santiano

Published over 1 year ago on February 02, 2023

by Mharla Francesca Santiano

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(Screengrab from Drag Den Philippines)

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This article contains spoilers!

Naloka ka 'di ba? The country's first reality drag pageant, Drag Den, hosted by Fil-Am drag icon Manila Luzon, formally completed its first season this Jan. 26, and it proved to be independent from any drag competition formulas as it uniquely concocted its own. With episodes dedicated to political skits, ending spiels that scathe with facts, and of course, the drama that every Filipino audience needs, Drag Den delivered all and more from its pilot to the finale.

It was an eight-episode display of the country's finest drag artists, their visual storytelling, and even the social issues they fight for. In Drag Den, the people behind and in front of the camera proved that the G in glamour also stands for grit, and here's why.

Drag knows no mold

(Screengrab from Drag Den Philippines)

(Screengrab from Drag Den Philippines)

As drag continues to pierce through mainstream conversations, many may still have a difficult time grasping on what Filipino drag looks like. Drag competition shows on streaming platforms and television have the power to easily represent what drag is, and in Drag Den, the queens and creators showed that drag thrives on diversity.

Naia, who reclaimed the nickname of "babygirl" throughout the show, creates the perfect fantasy, and finds a way to stand out with her ultrafemme looks. Shawarma is a fiery force to be reckoned with, owning a drag aesthetic that oozes power and sexiness. Maria Cristina (MC) puts her heart and soul into every runway presentation that always derives from proudly Filipino elements, stories, and culture. Barbie-Q, the show's jewel of transgender representation slays the stage with her glitter goddess looks. Lady Gagita, the iconic Lady Gaga and Katy Perry impersonator, also gets one's attention with her strong drag individuality --- campy, wise, and gorgeous. Aries Night, Drag Den's official look queen, blends horror, avant-garde, and feminine glam flawlessly while never forgetting depth and meaning in each runway look. O-A (Odasha) delivers campy and beautiful presentations, also exhibiting her show-given chameleon title by easily committing to every aesthetic required. As Pura Luka Vega claims their weirdness, it's easy to see the beauty of their aesthetic. Their beard, which they dye to match every look they don, adds that punch of uniqueness and stand-out quality.

The queens' individualities shine throughout the season, and their differences allow them to add their own special touch to each of their presentations, letting the audiences see that drag does not look like one thing only.

A refreshing take on reality TV

(Screengrab from Drag Den Philippines)

(Screengrab from Drag Den Philippines)

Pageantry was also a prevalent element throughout the show --- staying true to its title as the country's first reality drag pageant, the queens were tasked to deliver creative spiels in the theme wear challenges. This adds depth to the competing queens because it shows their creativity not only through their looks, but also via the way they sell them. The spiels also show the audience facets of their personality as they explain their creative choices --- whether they're personal or not, and this instantly lets us easily connect with them.

In all the theme wear and runway presentations, not only do the queens' names appear through gold plates, but also the names they give to each look. They also allow space for the creative team behind every queen's runway --- the wig stylists, designers, shoes, and more which gives a platform for all kinds of creators to showcase their vision.

If you watch closely, there are still more things to look out for cinematic-wise --- like interesting details which make each episode unique from the others, proving that the show does not follow a single template, and it puts extra effort into making certain moments more special and interesting.

With a pasabog creative team, the faces in front of the camera bring an infectious energy as well. Social media icon Sassa Gurl, and Binibining Pilipinas Grand International 2016 Nicole Cordoves pose as Luzon's co-hosts. Sassa effortlessly forms an authentic and enjoyable rapport with the queens during their preparation time before runways, and during couch breaks as judges deliberate. Cordoves' talent in hosting and interviewing is undeniably in the spotlight as she tours guest judges every episode while casually conversing with the queens.

One could also not miss the judges' critiques. Luzon gives points of improvement, but does not forget to acknowledge the ingenuity the queens poured into each presentation. The same goes with Cordoves, and the guest judges, making their constructive criticism a breath of fresh air.

Unafraid of advocacy

(Screengrab from Drag Den Philippines)

(Screengrab from Drag Den Philippines)

As a viewer, Drag Den really is more than a competition show. From the pilot, it can already be concluded that Drag Den's primary audience was the Filipino audience. This is further affirmed by the show's liberty to let niche Filipino jokes and slangs fly around, embrace Philippine novelty songs, protest, and holidays as theme wear categories, and overall became a stage for commentary on the socio-political status of the country.

One ofthe show's defining qualities is being politically charged, and it is everything that we need today. It doesn't tackle social issues through euphemisms that raise eyebrows with intrigue; instead, it says what needs to be said. The show was able to successfully remind the audience of the country's culture of fake news, the lack of marriage equality, and how the masses are left with scraps by politicians who "treat the Filipino people like a joke." Though every episode does not waste a chance to express what needs to be voiced out, an episode was dedicated to exactly that, and trust me, it's better to watch on your own, and see the queens' advocacies come alive through their runway looks and speeches.

The show also takes bringing drag to the masses seriously. They held free viewing parties in Maginhawa and Matahimik Street, Quezon City, and along with it, were Dragdagulan competitions where anyone can join. The competitors are only tasked to bring their slay game, impress everyone and the judges, and even win cash prizes. Besides the show making itself a platform accessible for all --- supporters, all kinds of drag artists, queer people, and more; it also creates community, and becomes another form of safe space for anyone who needs it.

Drag Den proved it was not behind any prevalent drag competition's shadow. Instead, it is its own entity, and behind it is the presence of Drag Den creator, director, and writer Rod Singh. Her vision was translated beautifully through the hands-on creative bits and elements seen in the episodes, how the care for the queens and staff was felt even from an audience perspective, and how it was truly a love letter for Philippine drag and its roots, not a show with a mere goal to compete.

As Manila Luzon always says: "For Filipinos, by Filipinos," and each episode proves to embody that every single time. Drag Den knows its audience, but it's just right to say it deserves the world's attention.

Drag Den is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video Philipines.

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Profile picture of Mharla Francesca Santiano

Mharla Francesca Santiano

Blogs Writer

Mharla Santiano is a Blogs Writer at TomasinoWeb. She loves writing about real life, and finds it both a fun and healing experience whenever she takes pieces of the world she’s moving in and puts them into pages like a novel. She has no favorite genre of movies, and simply watches anything she “vibes with,” but knows that The Parent Trap (1998) and Ponyo (2008) are her immovable favorites. She also finds herself writing movie reviews, making it a creative outlet whenever she fixates on one. And probably because she relates to it as well. She loves pink, pop music, and iced coffee.

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