Representation of the Black LGBTQ+ community on television has certainly improved in recent years. Thanks to trailblazing shows such as Ryan Murphy’s Pose and Lena Waithe’s Twenties, viewers are seeing a host of Black queer characters thrive in central storylines not riddled in tropes and stereotypes. But there’s still work to be done.
As Black History Month draws to a close, Metro.co.uk caught up with Pose actor Dyllon Burnside and Twenties star Jonica Gibbs to discuss how these landmark shows have helped change representation for the better and what further improvements they’d like to see come into place.
‘In the last two to three years, we’ve seen this shift in representation and I think really Pose has been at the forefront of that in terms of creating a space for shows that are led by Black and Brown trans women and queer folks,’ Dyllon told us.
‘It’s the first time we’ve ever seen a show on a major television network be led by Black and Brown queer trans folks and it’s been wildly popular and successful, both with fans and critics and with the television academy. I do have an awareness and the sense of the fact that Pose broke new ground and allowed the industry to see that Black and Brown queer folks are bankable.’
Dyllon plays Ricky in the acclaimed FX series. He made television history in the show’s second season, alongside Billy Porter, starring in a love scene that featured two Black, queer, HIV positive men.
He continued: ‘Pose is accomplishing a number of things that are changing the world. It’s creating representation for folks that are marginalised and also educating folks who don’t get to meet these marginalised groups on a regular basis and get to step into this fictional world to meet fictional world who have experiences unlike their own.’
Jonica plays main character Hattie, a masculine-presenting lesbian, in Twenties. She agreed that representation for the Black queer community has improved in recent years.
‘I think that the representation has broadened,’ she said. ‘I think different versions of being part of the LGBTQ+ community have to be displayed as well so people feel comfortable enough to be seen in real life, and that’s something that’s definitely been expanded upon.
‘I’m proud to be part of a show that represents a character that is multi-faceted in regards to gender and sexuality and I’ve had straight people of all ages say they rock with the show. I think that is a step towards there being more understanding and accepting.’
But while these shows, like many others (I May Destroy You, Sex Education, and Shrill, to name but a few) are doing the most to tell Black queer stories, there’s still a lot more to accomplish.
‘I think it’s time for us to see the stories about Black queer folks that don’t necessarily explain their queerness, they just are,’ Dyllon said. ‘We accept it because that’s how the world is.
‘We are in the world and people accept it and if they don’t then that’s fine, they move on. Queer folks don’t have to go around explaining their existence every day. And they shouldn’t have to and they shouldn’t have to in depictions of the media either.’
He added: ‘Sure, there are certain roadblocks and challenges related to being queer that still need to be explored in our storytelling but they don’t have to be explored in a way that “others” queer folks.
‘Instead, we can look at those roadblocks and challenges like another part of the human experience and explore that in a way that we explore any other facet of humanity. That’s what I think the next step is.’
Meanwhile, Jonica highlighted there’s room for growth and understanding.
‘When it comes to being Black and queer it’s like a double edge sword sometimes – we want to be accepted by the gays, we want to be accepted by the Blacks and sometimes neither parties are trying to have you jump in their group,’ she said.
‘I hope we continue to grow and I hope there is more empathy towards individuals who are different to you, regardless of what that difference is.’
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