There has been much written about #OscarsSoWhite – I’m not even sure why there is even a debate. If you look at the voting history of the academy – it’s fair to say there is a lack of diversity across the board. Mover over; if Will and Jada Smith choose to boycott that’s their prerogative. Personally, I unfriended a few of my “friends” on Facebook due to their ignorance. One person said, “they should get over it” and implied Jada is upset simply because Will did not receive a nomination – how absurd!
Others claim nominations are based on merit not race. This would be a valid argument if non-white actors were on the same playing field. A non-white actress looking for a lead role in Hollywood may have a different point of view.
The debate is bigger than The Oscars – Hollywoodis a microcosm of larger racial divides within the country. My experience working in magazine publishing for over ten years, proof positive. Having 2 or 3 “black” co-workers raises an eyebrow. Non-whites are rarely featured on covers, within the editorial pages and in advertising images. Anyone who denies an unbalanced representation of non-whites in Hollywood or elsewhere does not want to dig deeper and face the truth. That is called denial. Many are OK with the status quo and look down upon people who challenge the establishment. I applaud Will, Jada and anyone else taking a stand for equality.
I haven’t made up my mind if I will be watching. But I am very curious how host Chris Rock will handle the controversy. To be continued….
Photo: Fox (Empire). Openly gay actor Jussie Smollett as Jamal Lyon (left).
For decades, Hollywood has unequally represented the LGBT community. Today even with prominent LGBT characters popping up this season on Fox’s Empire and Scream Queens there is a lack of LGBT characters being represented on television. According to GLAAD’s annual Where We Are On TV report, “there are only 35 LGBT characters being represented, compared to 881 Straight characters.”
As a new gay actor in Hollywood, I’ve discovered not only is there an imbalance of LGBT vs. straight roles, it can be totally confusing figuring out which roles to go for. For example, while combing through countless casting notices that read “30-40yr old males to play role of dad.” I ask myself, “would I be believable as a heterosexual dad?” I usually breeze over these notices, I automatically think, the “dad” is straight. But in reality, he could be gay too OR be equally played by a gay man!
Although the numbers are stacked against me, I booked several jobs working as an background actor. For one job, the Casting Director asked “if I was comfortable” playing gay. I chuckled and thought to myself “I have no issue with being type cast.” In fact, I welcomed it.
We ended up shooting an additional scene that day and to my surprise, I was paired with a female to portray a heterosexual couple on a date. For some reason, it gave me an odd sense of feeling validated — to think the Assistant Director saw me as straight. Yes, I have the ability to transform, this is acting. However, I questioned why I felt surprised by being cast in the role. I often wonder if straight actors playing in gay roles ask themselves similar questions?
Nick Jonas who played two gay characters on TV this year, recently told USA Today that he doesn’t consider “whether the character is gay or straight, but about what the story is and what the audience is going to get out of it.”
Photo: Fox (Scream Queens), Nick Jonas.
Well said, but there seems to be a double standard. If a heterosexual actor portrays an LGBT character they are referred to as “courageous.” On the flip side, if a gay actor plays straight they are rarely referred to as “brave.”
Actor Milo Ventimiglia (who took his first LGBT role at age 18), has spoken on the topic. While disucussing his gay following and playing LGBT roles, Milo once told The Advocate a producer said, “It’s very brave of you to consider something like this.” Ventimiglia challenged this notion and replied, “Why? It’s a great role.” “I tend to lean toward a good role despite any stigma that’s possibly attached to it. The fact that people are still worried about stuff like that just baffles me.” Milo is right, it is baffling!
Photo: Fox (Gotham), Milo Ventimiglia.
Although there is an imbalance in roles and stereotypes to combat, I’m learning to remain open and not to let anyone’s perceptions (including my own) stand in the way of pursing my dreams. Hopefully, we will continue see our lives equally reflected in the future.
GLAAD’s CEO & President, Sarah Kate Ellis notes, “We’ve witnessed tremendous progress in television since GLAAD began tracking the presence of LGBT characters 20 years ago, but there is still a great deal of work to be done and many new and exciting stories to be told. We will continue to applaud networks and streaming services telling these stories – and hold their feet to the fire when they don’t.”
Natsuya Uesugi is living proof that in spite of being bullied as a child for being intersex, you can rise above and emerge a superhero.
Natsuya was raised with no particular sense of gender. Natsuya was brought up with the notion that you could be anything you want with the right education. Natsuya excelled in academics, music, language and won multiple medals for running track all though high school. Like with any race there are hurdles and Natsuya did not have it easy “I was bullied in high school and had a hard time finding who I was.” Natsuya wants gay, trans, intersexed and questioning teens to know it is alright and no one should bully you for being who you are.
Like many gay, trans and intersexed youth, Natsuya struggled with a sense of self. In school, Natsuya continued to make achievements like earning a track scholarship to college to Georgetown University at age 16. Natsuya turned it down but still attended school there. While on the outside, it appeared as if everything was just fine that wasn’t the case. “In freshman year, I tried to commit suicide because my body did not align with my mind. Finding the way to your genuine self can be a long and difficult road. There is family to think about, society and friends. Finding my genuine self was a battle that I had to wage. I spent much of my teenage years trying to understand my feelings and get in touch with myself. The direction of society weighed on my mind and at that time psychiatrists were not familiar with transgender and questioning. Much of the pain I faced was because people were trying to tell me who I was.”
When Natsuya become involved in a relationship, things started to change for the better. “When I met my boyfriend who was gay in college I had a sense that I was a gay man, the thought of being straight never crossed my mind. My boyfriend was openly gay it was a badge of honor for him. I can even say he helped me embrace gay culture and understand my place in the LGBTQ spectrum. In a sense, it was liberating because for the first time I was expressing my genuine self and being who I was. I had always had to explain myself and where I was coming from. My boyfriend just got it and I didn’t have to explain everything to him.”
Natsuya graduated from Georgetown, took a huge leap of faith by moving to New York City. Natsuya didn’t have a job lined up and ended up sleeping on the streets. “When I first got to New York City straight out of college I left with $120 in my pocket, a bag of stuff and no place to live. I ran away to New York City. I thought that if I could make it there I could make it anywhere and that is why I went.” Natsuya’s unique look caught the eye of talent agent and while walking down the street was stopped and offered a modeling contract. Natsuya didn’t want to become a model, it just happened and provided much needed income. “I started modeling and was neither happy nor unhappy that I was doing it. It was a way to put food on the table. I tried to keep my gender identity out of it. When I was modeling I had to “be a woman.” It was difficult to reconcile these two worlds.” Natsuya eventually quit modeling to pursue a business career. “I quit modeling because it was superficial. Even though I had a modeling contract and made good money at it, I wanted more. I wanted to be known for my mind not my body.”
Once again, Natsuya was forced to assimilate. “When I first entered the business world, I soon learned that I was going to have to conform to a gender. I learned that woman and men are not equal. Later on, when I went to work for a large Fortune 500 technology company, I learned that transitioning can cause problems. My resume said one thing and I was accepted as that but when I went to change my exterior people around me had issue with it. It was very uncomfortable at my work many years later when I told them that I was transgender and would be taking hormones. When I did that, everything seemed to change. Before I declared that, my gender was not really an issue I was androgynous and presented like that. Actually, declaring I was transgender seemed to change the dynamic. Today I have changed my name at work and present in my target gender. My current job does not have an issue with it like my last job did. I think, I am excelling at my current job because I can be gender neutral, transition and be myself. Having the weight of gender over my head would be an extra worry. I am glad my workplace is LGBTQ friendly.”
As a creative outlet, Natsuya began to take acting classes and started to write which lead to The Grydscaen series. In addition to being a successful systems analyst, Natsuya is also a celebrated science fiction author! The Grydscaen series features an array of heroic characters representing the LGBTQ community. Writing has provided Natsuya with a platform to present LGBTQ characters in positions of power; depicting role models living as their genuine selves. “I want to relay that LGBTQ people deserve equal rights like non-discrimination, marriage equality and equal pay for equal work. Transgender rights play a big theme in my sci fi Grydscaen series. There are actually 1 MTF and 1 FTM character in Grydscaen, a bisexual character and an asexual character. The main character of the series Ameliano Dejarre is a gay male.”
Natsuya is currently recovering from gender assignment surgery and is fully male…“I now know who I am and I am whole. Some people chose not to transition for one reason or another. I have chosen to walk the transition path, this is who I am, I will not be defined by the gender box someone wants to put me in. Being intersexed the box might be a little different but in the end we are all people!”
Every day, we are inundated with news stories of the challenges facing the LGBTQ community. While informative and necessary, the news can be slightly depressing. It seems our stories of success and love get lost in the debates. Spotlight on David Harris and Tre’Darrius Anderson, David and Tre’Darrius made national news, in 2013, when at the age of 19, married in front of the Lincoln Memorial becoming possibly America’s youngest African American gay couple to wed in the country. It’s been two years now and these young Millennials, who meet on Twitter, are going strong. Through their non-pro-fit organization Guys With Pride, they are on a mission to promote self-affirmation, dignity and equality rights. I too met David and Tre’Darrius on Twitter and through an exchange of tweets, direct messages and emails, I learned more about their inspiring journey.
I have to ask, why did you guys marry so young?
We didn’t think getting married age 19 was such huge milestone in the world, ya know?! People called us brave, bold, and daring for getting married at such a young age. It was the love between us both that brought us together.
Getting married at 19 – whether gay or straight makes a statement. Did you feel like you were making a statement?
We did not think the world was going to take this serious. Expressing our love is what we were doing, but the outcome was truly amazing. We went from no family wanting to support us, to thousands of people sending us love from all over the world. We did not know marrying each other would make headlines. We shared our video on YouTube and we went to sleep that night. The next morning everyone was talking about our video. The world was praising us but then we had people telling us we wasn’t going to make it a week, or even a month.
All the attention must have been over whelming. No family support, really? Has that changed?
Yes, a lot of more family is supporting us now. We have the support of both of our mom’s now. Our relationship is being accepted more by our family as the days go by. Everything takes time and we believe things will work out for the better. Sooner or later.
You live in the south, what’s everyday life like in Memphis?
So normal, not so progressive. Our marriage is not legal here which also upsets us! That’s why we chose to get married in D.C.
What are your thoughts on the religious freedom act?
The religious freedom debate has touched a particularly raw nerve in Indiana, where a GOP pushed to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage and civil unions was defeated last year — exposing tensions within Republican caucuses that already have more than two-thirds super majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate. Several Indiana cities already have anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation, but the legislative fix to the religious freedom law will be the first time protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity are recognized statewide. We have faith that things will get better.
How have you been embraced by the African American community particularly?
Indeed, we have met tons of people on this journey. People of all races has supported us equally.
In gay culture, it seems, gay men in their early twenties are looking to explore their freedom and sexuality; leaning in the opposite direction of marriage. Why do you think that is?
When you’re in the early twenties you are still trying to figure out who you are as a person individually. You want to live life to the fullest, with no strings attached. Marriage is not for everyone.
What has been the best thing about marriage? Do you have plans to start a family?
The best thing about marriage, is knowing that there will always be someone to run to. Having someone to love, grow old with, and share memories is the best! Of course, we want kids! Two boys and a girl. We have already named them also, lol! We are huge on family and would love to have our own someday. We have decided that we will be going the surrogacy route.
As advocates of love and marriage equality, what do you hope to achieve? What are your dreams?
Honestly, we just want to inspire others and help make change for the LGBTQ community. Whether is through television/film, social networking or etc. We want to be that voice that uplifts and motivate our peers. Just let them know that they are not in this alone. Our dreams are to be television stars. There are so many people who come to us in support and for guidance. We get tons of emails, witter messages, and facebook messages for help. We would love to have our own show one day.
If you were to be given that opportunity to share your story on a greater platform, what would you like people to learn from you? What advice would you give to other young gay couples?
Always to stay true to yourself! Believe that tomorrow will be a new day and things get better! Not to care what others think; you can only live for yourself.
Lastly, tell me about Guys WithPride?
Guys With Pride (GWP) A non-profit organization, we started takes a positive stance against discrimination, violence and bullying toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Our mission is to promote self-affirmation, dignity and equality rights. As well as to increase their visibility as a social group, build community awareness, and celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance, as opposed to shame and social stigma of being gay. Our marriage equality movement starts later this year with the launch of our website GuysWithPride.org
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