Black History Month is here. It’s a time when the United States reflects on the accomplishments and accolades of Black people over time. This is when we focus a lot of our sites on our ancestors, which Is quite imperative. But, I think it’s important that we begin giving our people their flowers while walking among us. More specifically, I think it’s important that we highlight and uplift those Black folks whose bodies, identities, and experiences differ from what they often desired among audiences.
Ordinarily, media and entertainment uplift the experiences of cisgender and heterosexual people. LGBT+ representation has always been limited to stereotypes than assume harmful stereotypes about who we are. We have recently seen an insurgence of Black queer & trans creators that have pushed back on these stories and created narratives to reflect the real multifaceted and nuanced experiences of queer and trans folks.
Here are five Black Queer & Trans game-changers in the entertainment and media industry.
Andre Leon Talley
While we all know the names of Black models who graced the fashion industry, like Naomi Campbell & Tyra Banks, we often don’t know the people who work behind-the-scenes. Andre Leon Talley is a fashion journalist and critic whose profound eloquence and heightened fashion-sense landed him in contributing roles at Andy Warhol’s Factory, The New York Times, and the Met. His skills earned him the job from Anna Wintour as Vogue’s Creative Director, which made him the first and only Black person to hold the position.
Talley has advised Obama family’s on fashion, served as a judge on America’s Next Top Model, and continues to advocate for more models of color on runways and publications. You can hear more from the man behind the greatest fashion-expert to live by watching The Gospel According to Andre or by purchasing his new memoir, The Chiffon Trenches.
Janet Mock gained public-eye attention when she spoke out about a Marie Claire article headline, in which she came out as a Trans woman, that stated she was born a boy. Interestingly enough, she became a contributing editor for the magazine. Mock uses her platform as an advocate of transgender and racial justice. In her book, Reclaiming Realness, she says, “I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act.” And she has done just that.
Mock works on the FX series Pose, where she is the first trans person to be hired as a writer for a television series. She also works as a producer and director for the show. She continues to set the bar in the media and entertainment industry as she has produced The Trans List, received many awards and accolades, and is the first openly transgender person to sign a production deal with a major studio (Netflix).
While many may not recognize this name, Steve Canals is the co-creator and executive producer of the FX series, Pose. In an interview with Out, he says that the film Paris is Burning inspired him to develop the script for the show. The show has the largest transgender cast in history. There aren’t any other shows that compare to Pose because it’s its own kind. It focuses on the stories of Black & Brown transgender women, and some queer men, in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The show teaches us how love manifested in the ballroom scene and the respective “houses,” and how those were crucial forms of resistance from racism, queer- & trans-phobia, and AIDS stigmatization.
Canals was a staff writer on Dead of Summer, was named “writer to watch,” and signed a deal with 20th Century Fox Television in 2020.
While many know Laverne Cox from her role as Sophia on Orange is the New Black, her resume extends far beyond that. Cox began taking small roles in films that date back to 2000. In 2010, she produced and starred in the VH1 series, TRANSform Me, where she and other transgender stylists did makeovers for women. This made her the first transgender woman to produce and star in her own television series. Cox has used her platform to document and publicize the experiences of transgender people by producing films like Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word and Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen.
Cox has received various accolades for her activism for Trans justice. She is the first openly transgender person on a TIME cover, has an Honorary Doctorate from The New School in New York City, and was one of the faces for IVY PARK during its 2017 Fall release.
James Earl Hardy
Before we had Noah’s Arc, we had B-Boy Blues: Seriously Sexy, Fiercely Funny, Black-on-Black Love Story. James Earl Hardy released this novel, which explored two Black gay men who navigated their relationship and the world. It is as political as it is sexy for its time by depicting Black queer characters that weren’t often shown. Hardy’s novel went over the 200,000 sale mark in 2019, on its 25th anniversary. But that isn’t where Hardy’s work ends.
Hardy went on to create an entire series to accompany B-Boy Blues. He has freelanced for Essence and New York Daily News, worked at Newsweek, has received numerous awards for his work, sold-out audiences for his one-man show, and has written biographies on Boyz II Men & Spike Lee. While B-Boy Blues has already been adapted into a stage play, it was announced in 2020 that it was being adapted for film.