Jonathan Plummer became famous when he became the husband of Waiting to Exhale author Terry McMillan in 1998, inspiring her best-selling novel How Stella Got Her Groove Back; he became infamous when he came out and divorced McMillan in 2005. After an acrimonious breakup, the two exes are on better terms (as evident by their Tuesday appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show), and Plummer is moving on. He's hosting a new Web series, NoMoreDownLow.TV, that highlights positive stories of gay black Americans. Plummer, along with the show's creator and executive producer, Earnest Winborne, spoke about the new endeavor and life after Terry.
The Advocate: Earnest, how did you get the idea for the show?
Earnest Winborne: I had been in television for 32 years, most recently in entertainment news—producing Access Hollywood, Extra, and E! I kept hearing about the down low, and it just occurred to me, Why do these nameless, faceless people who don’t proclaim to be gay get more media attention than anyone else? Why aren’t there any images of openly gay African-Americans who are honest and productive members of the community, in music, in sports, in entertainment, in politics, the medical field, activism? Where are the images of those people? There are none. Someone said to me, “If not you, who?” And I thought, I can do this. We actually did a pilot for the show four years ago. The word “niche” was always thrown around — “it’s too niche, it’s too narrow.” Everyone started telling me to put it on the Web, and eventually it made sense to me. I didn’t have to wait for a green light. Then it became a long journey of trying to find someone to host this thing. We asked John Amaechi and he passed. We even asked Dennis Rodman. We met with Jonathan some time ago and it didn’t work out with his people. Later, I saw him out and he said, “I really want to do your show.” So then Jonathan left [the management] he was with and we met again. I thought, He’ll bring eyeballs to the site and won’t fall on deaf ears.
Jonathan, why did you want to host the series?
Jonathan Plummer: Since my coming-out was so public, I wanted to focus on people struggling with their identity and help them come forward and speak their truth.
Tell me about the first episode.
Winborne: The stories for the first episode have already been shot and ready to go [the show premieres on October 11, National Coming Out Day] — we hope to at least have one show a month, and hopefully even more. On the first episode I’m doing a variety of things that are very Hollywood. We’re leading with a story on, “Is America ready for it’s first gay African-American movie star?” Speaking to the Prop. 8 theme, I have a great story about two lesbians — African-Americans voted for Prop. 8 because they don’t see people like them in the struggle; they see it as someone else’s problem. So I have a story on two women who got married in the interim period, and we put a face to that story. We also have a profile piece on photographer Duane Cramer, who’s photographed many celebrities, but it’s his pictures of openly gay people that really make an impact.
To try to make it inclusive, I have a correspondent doing a segment called “Straight Talk.” These are stories from a straight African-American point of view. We have a single African-American woman talking about her experience and how she’s often assumed to be a lesbian.
The final element is a drag queen — an actor, but he does drag — and he’s going to be a commentator. His commentary in this episode regards an Advocate article from a few years back about the younger generation not wanting to be called gay, but queer.
Also, we know HIV has hit our community exceptionally hard. We’re going to do stories and keep that in the forefront in a unique and interesting way. We don’t want people to say, “Oh no, this is the AIDS story.” We also want to find [the black celebrities] who support gays and lesbians, and we’re going to be getting their opinions and advice. You’re not going to see this stuff on BET or TV One.
Terry McMillan. How did this experience compare to the last time you
were on the show, where things seemed really hostile between you and
Plummer: This experience was a lot better — we’re both at peace with
ourselves. We can definitely be cordial and even somewhat affectionate.
We are definitely in a better place. Terry has accepted me for me, and
that means a lot. I really hope she finds true love again.
been hard for me as well. I’m very comfortable with my sexuality, and
I’m not hiding it. It’s been hard because of my experience with Terry. A
lot of people feel they can’t really follow in her footsteps.
Do you plan on reading McMillan’s new book, Getting to Happy, the sequel to Waiting to Exhale?
Plummer: I will read it. I actually endorsed it on the show.