In what feels like a previous life at this point, I was an actor — a storyteller of a different sort. As a sophomore in high school, I auditioned for my first play, Witness for the Prosecution, and landed the lead role I would later learn Marlene Dietrich played in the 1957 Billy Wilder film. During my first go-round at college when I was 18, I played roles in classics like Six Characters in Search of an Author, The Bourgeois Gentleman, and Lysistrata.
As a middle-schooler, I fantasized that when I was a bit older, I would star as Angel in a Broadway musical version of Little Darlings — not because I wanted to be Kristy McNichol, but because my preteen brain thought that Angel and Tatum O’Neal’s character Ferris should have been together, and I had a silent crush on O’Neal before I knew I was gay. My only professional acting gig came at age 22 when I landed an ensemble role in a touring company of Oh! Calcutta!, the show with sex vignettes that included full nude scenes. By day, my castmates and I traversed the continental United States and Canada in a rock-and-roll bus. At night, we stripped down to our birthday suits and performed bawdy and dated sketches. I did, however, earn Actors’ Equity eligibility from my nude nights on the stage.
At some point, I abandoned acting, believing I lacked the fortitude for pounding the pavement and rejection. A life-long movie buff, I eventually found a way to channel my love of cinema, and later a profound affinity for TV, with storytelling and my queer identity into the work I’ve done in LGBTQ+ media since 1998. It’s my sincere belief that progress for queer people happens on multiple fronts. Those include action, policy, and storytelling.
Entertainment has always acted as a means of escape and to humanize stories far flung from our own. Since the world shuttered in March 2020 and a return to normalcy could be measured in fits and starts, movies and TV have provided a much-needed escape and salve for exhausted parents, teachers, health care workers, and the list goes on. Shows like Schitt’s Creek, The Queen’s Gambit, Mare of Easttown, Schmigadoon!, and Lovecraft Country have created a means of escape and shared experiences for those who watched them. The Advocate staff has engaged in passionate virtual watercooler conversations about all the aforementioned shows.
In our Innovators in Film & TV issue, we honor storytellers and innovators who are doing more than making art and providing an outlet in an ongoing time of uncertainty. They are also, through their courage to be authentically themselves, paving a way for LGBTQ+ people to follow. Among those we feature are trans model and actor Laith Ashley, who just landed his biggest role yet, and MorningStar Angeline, a queer Indigenous performer and director who plays a queer part in the upcoming Outer Range. For thrills and escape, look no further than gay Child’s Play creator Don Mancini, who’s got a TV show based on his murderous doll Chucky dropping this fall.
It’s also the perfect time to feature veteran actor Colman Domingo, who after decades of lauded work is finally getting overdue recognition. The star of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom opposite Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman last year and of HBO’s Euphoria, Zola, and the upcoming Candyman, Domingo is more than ready for his close-up.
As we put this issue to bed, the plight of Afghans, especially those who are LGBTQ+ (or just female), hangs in the balance and the ongoing pandemic is challenging the notion of getting back to normal life. One day, and probably soon, these palpable stories will be made into films or documentaries or woven into plotlines of existing TV shows. The chronicling of challenging times is necessary. It keeps all our stories alive.
Yours in Storytelling,
Tracy E. Gilchrist