I am an “other.” As a queer, biracial man who occupies and embodies many different intersections of “otherness,” I’ve spent my entire life seeking reflections of myself in the world around me to connect and relate to. One of my greatest sources of inspiration and strength comes from a quote by the great African-American artist Kerry James Marshall, who said: “I think we need to remember that a lot of energy was put into changing things to get us to the place where we are now, but being where we are now doesn’t mean that we don’t have to put in the same kind of energy to get us to a place where we ought to be.”
In this new era of Hollywood, where “representation” and “inclusion” are the buzzwords of the moment, it’s important to address the root cause of the issue as opposed to simply treating the symptoms. People often ask me why I choose to primarily play queer characters, and my answer is that as a queer man, I choose to align myself with projects in which I can be of service for a purpose greater than myself: to be for an audience of queer people of color, something I didn’t have the privilege of seeing as a young man.
The entertainment industry is a microcosm of the real world. To be “othered” within the industry is a reflection of where we have been cast in the outside world, existing in the margins of society for decades witnessing cisgendered, heterosexual whiteness as the clearly defined default to which we must cater. For too long, we who were born into a place of existing outside of the status quo, for reasons far beyond our control, whether because of sexuality, gender identity or the color of our skin, have been expected to nourish and sustain ourselves from the table scraps we have been offered as opposed to the privilege of a full meal.
During a recent panel I sat on at the WGA with the writers, producers, co-creator, showrunner and network executive of “UnREAL” (all of whom were women), we were asked by an audience member, a middle-aged white man, if the professional inequality and hardships we experience at the hand of older white male executives was still a daily struggle. The answer was a resounding yes — yet he was completely baffled by our response. But the issue is not straight, white men. The issue is the societal structures which remain in place that are set up to assist in the advancement of that demographic, leaving the rest of us “others” in second and third place, and always last.
Yes, there have been many recent noteworthy wins within our community: The tremendous global success of “Black Panther,” “Big Little Lies” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has changed minds and lives across the world. These achievements are worthy of acknowledgement and celebration. But the creative minds behind these celebrated projects are not new to the game; they have been waiting for a seat at the table to show what we have to offer. It is only through telling the stories of “others” from the perspective of those who have walked in those shoes, that we may be able to begin to accurately and authentically tell stories of people who may not subscribe to standards set by the status quo — because they know better, they know themselves, they know others like them, and they know how best to tell our stories in a way that we may feel seen, heard, acknowledged and accepted, not tolerated.
There is tremendous power in presenting stories to the world that have actual impact and are reflective of the world we are living in today and the issues many marginalized communities of people face. It’s the power of art as activism. Bringing these stories to the forefront is something that is necessary for the survival of the industry as we know it. We must get creative in our attempts of inclusion. While access to the creation of one’s own content is becoming rapidly more available, we are still at a place where collaboration is a necessity to be able to utilize the power of art as activism. What we say and represent has impact on the world around us, so it is our responsibility to say something of authenticity and value. It is our responsibility to use storytelling to help dissolve the lines of otherness and present projects to the world that are representative of all of humanity.
I’m grateful to the creative allies behind “UnReal” who are willing to stand behind disenfranchised communities of people worldwide and help to tell their stories. In order for us to continue on this mission, we require the assistance of allies industrywide to open the doors to which they hold the keys and create space for us at the table. We will bring our own chairs.
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman stars in “UnReal,” which airs its season three finale on April 23. He’s also the host of the podcast “Conversations with Others.”