February 1, 2024

Black Actors Who Played Gay Roles

There's a case to be made that American cinema — high, low, prestige, blockbuster — has avoided black gay male characters like the plague. That's not just a form of cultural erasure, but a morally indefensible form of discrimination.

In fact, it was just last year that we saw a film with a black gay lead — Tyler Perry's AIDS drama The Inheritance. Until then, the only well-known film portraying a gay black character was a bit part for Meshach Taylor in the dumber-than-bricks '80s B-movie Mannequin.

And in many cases, straight actors have been hesitant to take on such roles. Will Smith, for instance, says that Denzel Washington advised him to decline a role as a gay con artist in Six Degrees of Separation because it required him to kiss another man.

Other straight black actors have also cited insecurities as reasons for turning down gay roles, including Samuel L. Jackson and Mike Epps. And recently, it was revealed that Seyi Omoba had to be fired from the Broadway production of The Color Purple because she'd made anti-LGBTQ comments.

Yet despite that hesitancy, there have been plenty of black actors who have taken on gay roles. Several have even received Oscar nominations for doing so, including Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in the cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain; Charlize Theron in Aileen Wuornos biopic Monster; Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody; Sean Penn as California's first openly gay elected official Harvey Milk in Milk, and most recently Benedict Cumberbatch as computer programmer Alan Turing in Call Me By Your Name.

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