At Eurovision 2021, she brought Russia another top ten result with her empowering track “Russian Woman”.
But Manizha advocates for more than just women’s rights. She’s a feminist icon with a drive to achieve equality for all in her home country, and she carries that message through all of her music.
The team at wiwibloggs is pleased to announce that Manizha has won the 2021 Dana International Award for LGBTQ+ Equality as part of our annual Vision Music Awards.
This award was founded in honour of Dana International, who in 1998 became the first transgender woman to win Eurovision. Conservatives at home asked Israel to withdraw from the contest, but she stood her ground and sang for all oppressed people en route to victory. The Wiwi Jury awards this prize to the contestant who did the most for the many LGBTQ+ fans who follow Eurovision. Activism is risky business, but the winner knows that doing what’s right is more important than bowing to the haters.
Manizha wins the Dana International Award for LGBTQ+ Equality 2021
Russia is a traditionally conservative country. LGBTQ+ people living in Russia face social and legal challenges less-often encountered by those living in Western nations. Protections against discrimination on a basis of sexuality and gender identity are also very limited in Russia.
But with folks like Manizha pushing for change, hope is on the horizon. The Tajikistan-born singer is an LGBTQ+ ally and she continues to use her platform to champion the rights of her peers.
And at Eurovision, she took it one step further.
In the final chorus of “Russian Woman”, Manizha and her four backing singers turned towards the LED screen to worship a wall of Russian people. Selfie screens at Eurovision is nothing new — think Joe & Jake (United Kingdom 2016) — but Manizha’s is one of the most powerful executions of this concept to date.
Manizha’s wall of people featured a drag performer in an enormous pink wig and a trans person wearing a binder across their chest. Coming from a country where queer people face challenges every single day, Manizha provided a ground-breaking moment for the visibility of LGBTQ+ people in Russia.
In a wiwibloggs interview, the Russian star told our William that with “Russian Woman” she intends to spark the drive for change in her country. “Say goodbye to patriarchy and let’s think about gender equality”, she said. “Let’s think about something really, really beautiful like your strength, your personal strength.”
And even while singing in Russian, that message reads loud and clear.
“Are you ready for change? Because we are the change.”
Manizha’s activism isn’t just a one-time stunt. In 2020, she worked closely with Russian online queer magazine Otkritiye, starring in one of their videos. She has appeared in many of Russia’s few Pride festivals including Otkritiye‘s Digital Pride and St. Petersburg Queerfest.
She’s faced an onslaught of backlash for her activism. Her Otkritiye appearance caused her to lose around 10,000 Instagram followers. Elsewhere, Manizha faced a wave of racism and toxicity from some conservative groups in Russia who claimed that she as a person of Tajik origin should not represent Russia at Eurovision.
The comments quickly turned violent. Speaking to the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg, Manizha revealed one individual sent her a message to say “I will pray to God that your aircraft will crash when you go to Rotterdam.”
But in the face of adversity, Manizha stood her ground. “I will go on the stage and I’m gonna do my job. Yeah, I’m gonna do it”, she said. She also responded to her critics with a mockumentary video parodying herself and poking fun at the claims she paid off Little Big to receive the Russian ticket to Eurovision 2021.
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Vision Music Awards 2021
This award is just one of 14 awards we have launched as part of the Vision Music Awards 2021 (VMAs).
Our 14 categories — from Best Dressed to Best Use of Social Media — identify the contestants who left the biggest impression on Eurovision fans, regardless of whether they won the contest or not.
Click here to see the remaining categories, and stay tuned to find out the Vision Music Award winners!