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‘Pose’ Actor Dyllón Burnside Talks Black Lives Matter, ‘Prideland’ and Growing Up Queer

Dyllon Burnside
Rob Latour/Shutterstock

Dyllón Burnside, who plays Ricky on FX’s hit show “Pose,” is currently quarantining in Georgia and watching the Black Lives Matter protests from afar. In this chat with Variety, he talks about what the movement means to him, especially as a queer Black man.

Burnside also touches on his new PBS series “Prideland,” which follows him as he journeys to the South and meets members of the LGBTQ community. One of the highlights from the special is Burnside sharing his coming out experience, which he says he was terrified to share on camera because, “My family encouraged me to deny and suppress who I was.”

What does the Black Lives Matter movement mean to you as a Black queer person?

The movement for Black Lives is really rooted in the radical Black Liberation Movements of the past. A lot of that has to do with folks who are at the forefront of the movement. The founders of the Black Lives Movement as we know it today are Black queer women, so it’s inherently queer and it draws from a rich history of people who look at liberation through a Black queer feminist lens.

I don’t consider myself an activist or anything like that. I take a lead from people who do that work daily and I seek to learn from them.

It’s all interconnected for me because I’m Black and queer. Me fighting for Black liberation is me fighting for liberation from white supremacy, patriarchy, transphobia and homophobia — all of which are symptoms from white colonialism. Those are all things that have been passed down through generations of oppression.

What does Hollywood need to be doing right now in terms of accountability and moving forward?

Hollywood and all of us need to be looking at ourselves with a magnifying glass. We need to be figuring out what we are holding on to and why we are holding on to it. We need to look at how we are taking the oppression of others for our own gain. How do we decolonize Hollywood? How do we create a space for all voices to be heard and to be celebrated on an even playing field? That’s from the top to the bottom. People have to relinquish power and privilege. It’s a hard thing to do and that’s exactly why it’s taken so long to get to a place where we can heal as a nation. Folks benefit from the system in place and they have to do the work. It can’t just be oppressed people shouting for equality and justice. It has to be the people at the top from studio executives to showrunners to actors who have power.

In “Prideland,” you tell your story of coming out, which felt so powerful to hear but also vulnerable.

That’s exactly what it was. It was empowering, but it required me to go to an incredibly vulnerable place because I was terrified to do it.

Everything I’ve been told up until this point was not to talk about it. My family encouraged me to deny and suppress who I was. Everything our industry and media tells you — our industry doesn’t reward Black men for coming out. So much of my career has been about how to present myself and how do I show myself holistically and have people understand that I am a queer man.

It was empowering because I got the opportunity to own my truth and my story. I believe that authenticity is a superpower and when you’re able to tap into that, there is an enormous amount of strength that comes from that. I can walk more confidently and be clear about what I want.

There’s been some negative reaction to the show with online petitions calling it to be canceled, do you have anything to say to that?

I learned this radical freedom phrase from the hip-hop community: “Haters are going to hate.” Let them hate. We are still going to do what we’re going to do. I can’t think about building a brighter future for the next generation and being a beacon of hope if I focus on the negativity of others.

What has your experience on “Pose” been like, as that show is also groundbreaking, entertaining and educational at the same time?

It’s so exciting and exhilarating. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a show that helps to provide some historical context for what we now perceive as pop culture. For some folks, it is educational, and so there’s a tension we work from. We enjoy our work but we’re also very serious about it. We are serious about doing it right. We want to make sure we represent the communities, their culture, their lives and their history.

Dyllón Burnside hosts Prideland airing streaming on PBS and stars in Pose season two now streaming on Netflix