If you’ve been watching the current season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ve caught 52-year-old drag queen Charlie Hides. Hides is best known for being a popular YouTube queen who skewers pop-culture with celebrity impressions. Though he’s been underperforming in the show, he’s well-known. His YouTube channel has over 200 videos and 94,000 subscribers and Cher once called him her ”favorite Cher impersonator.” (Stand aside, Chad Michaels!)
Hides partially made his career performing a black character named Laquisha Jonz for 14 years. He retired the character in 2015 after a Change.org petition with over 1,000 signatures requested that a show at London’s historic Royal Vauxhall Theatre drop Jonz from the line-up. The petition called Hides’ character “blackface” and “a racist act based on misogynist stereotypes of Black working class women.” It also said it was “outdated, offensive, shameful and has no place in the LGBT community.”
Blackface refers to the use of theatrical makeup by non-black actors to portray black characters onstage. It has a long history in America, particularly from the 1800s to the 1960s, and helped white performers profit off of black stereotypes while denying actual black performers a place onstage. Supporters of blackface compare it to other types of play acting and claim that it can heal racial divides through a celebration of racial diversity.
Here’s a video of Hides performing a parody of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” as Laquisha Jonz below:
Jonz recently spoke about the character in an interview with openly gay, former Big Brother contestant Andy West. Here’s what she had to say:
“Someone had seen a poster, hadn’t seen the character, didn’t know anything about the character’s history, the back story or anything. I apologized profusely.
Cher is part Cherokee, I don’t believe I have to be Cherokee, but what I do have to be is sensitive. And if someone says ‘Something you are doing is upsetting or offending me,’ then I have to look at it…. My thing is about bringing people together and making people laugh and entertaining people.
There’s real prejudism in the world and there’s real racism in the world. And as an entertainer, the last thing I want to do is contribute to real problems. I want to be a solution…. The last thing I ever wanted to do was to demean a group of people and that was the accusation.
When West said that the petition against Jonz must have been painful for Hides, Hides responded, “What’s my pain compared to — I’ve never been racially profiled, I’ve never been pulled over and frisked and searched, I’ve never been denied housing, I’ve never been denied opportunities.”
Here’s Hides’ interview with West:
Hides concluded by saying:
“I buried all of my friends in the ‘80s, so every day is a luxury for me — this is all gravy. So at 52 to be cast on Drag Race when most people’s careers plateaued a decade ago, I’m bumping up to another level. I am an A-List entertainer in the drag scene and I’m good at what I do. If 99 people liked it and one didn’t, I think I’m doing really well because 3 to 4% of the population is sociopaths anyway.”
Blackface has popped up in the drag community before. From 1997 to around 2015, drag performer Chuck Knipp, performed in blackface as Shirley Q. Liquor, making about $4,000 to $7,000 per gig to perform as the character at private parties held by wealthy white people.