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Actress Jasika Nicole Talks Being Biracial and Queer in Hollywood

Jasika Nicole LGBTQ&A

This interview was conducted as part of The Advocate's interview series, LGBTQ&A, a weekly podcast that documents modern queer and trans history. Subscribe on your favorite podcast app and read highlights from the interview below.

Jasika Nicole has made everything she’s wearing: her shoes, her dress, the jacket carefully folded and hanging over her arm.

She sews, knits, and embroiders. She makes and reupholsters furniture.

Last month, after four months of work, Jasika completed a bomber jacket for her wife that I’ve been coveting ever since. It’s fiery and celestial, with brown leather sleeves that give it a worn, vintage feel. Jasika’s wife, Claire, smiles and poses goofily, showing it off for Jasika’s blog.

The intimate act of creating clothes for a loved one feels timeless, extraordinarily human, yet there’s a quiet radicalism in sharing these moments online. Jasika sees it as her way of helping to normalize her different identities for people who might not know someone who's queer or biracial.

Speaking to her for this week’s episode of The Advocate’s podcast, LGBTQ&A, Jasika explains that making clothes and furniture lets her feel in control, something she doesn't have with her acting career. Having been in shows like Scandal, Fringe, and The Good Doctor, Jasika says, “If I'm going to be in this industry and basically be a pawn for all these other people, I need to be able to do something where I do have a lot of power.”

Jasika also talks about how being biracial and queer affects casting, network executives now wanting to see how many Instagram followers an actor has, and why more people should view crafting as a form of art. 

Growing up biracial affected Jasika Nicole’s world view. 
“I identify as black and I always have, but there are nuances in my experience. I definitely have privilege because of my skin color. I definitely have privilege because one of my parents is white; I’ve benefited from the privileges she has.

That doesn't mean that I haven't experienced discrimination or anything like that, but I think it's really important to break apart. For me, growing up in Birmingham, the child of a black man and white woman, we could not walk down the street without somebody saying something to us or someone looking at us funny. It was just a part of my day-to-day life.

And I know I carry that with me, that feeling of being stared at all the time, always for worse. When anybody's looking at me, [my wife] Claire always makes fun of me. I never assume it's because they were a Fringe fan or they listen to something that I've done. I always think it's because they think I look weird and I don't belong there.”

Jasika gets messages from people who haven’t seen queer people of color represented before.
“One woman wrote me and said that her daughter had come out to her and she had a really hard time with it. This was a black woman. You don't see that many black queer women in media, in television or film.

You know, representation is more than just you seeing yourself. It's for other people to see those ideas of who you can be and what it can be like to exist in the world too. She said it was a huge deal for her to see me on Instagram and recognize that we had all these things in common, and that I was living my life and I was happy.

She said her biggest fear was that her daughter wasn't gonna be safe and was gonna be unhappy. And, of course, in my head I'm like, “You're the reason for that.” But I didn't say that, I just said, "Thank you so much. I'm so glad that I could be a person that’s made you feel connected to your daughter in a different way.”

Your social media presence matters to network executives.
“You know, I've talked about going to queer marches and queer parades and stuff, but network executives weren't looking at MySpace. But now, when they cast people, they absolutely look and see what their Twitter following is like because they feel like they have a built-in audience.

And I am very vocal about being queer on all my social media platforms, and so, I can't say for sure...are they going onto my Instagram and saying, "Uh-oh, she's got a wife. Absolutely not.”? I don't know if it goes that far, but my representation has been asked how many followers I have.”

Being queer has affected Jasika’s casting. 
“I think that my queerness has affected my casting since my career began...but people are not as open to that possibility, which is really interesting. It's so bizarre because nobody's gonna argue that being a woman affects your casting, that being a person of color effects your casting.

So, if you know that you're working in a misogynist, racist industry, it doesn't make sense that it wouldn't also be homophobic.”

We undervalue crafting because it’s considered women’s work.
“I think crafting is one of the most incredible art forms that we have, and it is a way that women have been able to provide for their families and we don't put a lot of value on that. 

We see a painting in a museum and we say well, this is worth this many thousands of dollars because this person went to school and learned how to do this technique of painting and this is worth something. 

And then you have some woman in some community who's weaving baskets and selling them to tourists so that she can provide for her family. She's doing it with her hands and they're incredible, and you would never be able to do that in the same amount of time that she does it. And we say, Oh, that's her trade. That's her trade. That’s just the work that she does.”

LISTEN | Subscribe and listen to the full LGBTQ&A interview with Jasika.

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