If you take a look at the latest box office listings, you’re not likely to see many films projects featuring women of color, let alone queer women of color as cast members. More likely, you’ll notice a long list of film titles reflecting mainly white (male) narratives, and thus played by straight white actresses.
Given the dearth of film projects featuring LGBT characters as protagonists, what are the odds of queer women of color making it big in Hollywood?
Despite the challenges faced by minorities in Hollywood, more and more actors are coming out as LGBT — including women of color — and pushing boundaries by pushing for increased diversity, recognition, and success in their craft. I had the privilege of asking one such actress a few questions about working in the film industry.
Charyse Monet is not yet a household name, but this fiercely proud queer actress of color is working to change that. She did not begin her career as an actress. Instead, her career began with music, and the name C-Sharp. But she struggled to make ends meet as a hip-hop artist and so eventually transitioned from being an MC to working as an actress.
Monet got her first break in the recent drama-comedy film “Family” (2008), written and produced by Faith Trimel, in which she played Indrice Kemp, a closeted lesbian athlete struggling to come out to her teammates. The film follows a group of closeted lesbians of color who agree to come out to the important people in their lives, but meet unexpected challenges along the way. The film screened at festivals across the country, opening up new opportunities for Monet, and setting the stage for her career.
Monet recently spoke with QWOC Media Wire about the challenges of being and out woman of color in the film and television industry, Her message about staying true to yourself to achieve success is inspired, and we’re honored to share her voice with all of you.
It’s clear that you’ve had to overcome many challenges in your life. What kind of difficulties have you had to overcome as a queer actress of color?
I never set out to be a queer actress of color. I mean, in all honesty, who (in their right mind) would intentionally go out of their way to stack the deck against themselves? I can spend all day talking about what roles I didn’t get and who I felt did me wrong. I never allow myself to go backwards with that type of thinking. Perfect way to get stuck!
Have I lost roles being who and what I am? Yes. However, I’ve gained so much more than anyone will ever know because of who and what I am. Bravest thing you can choose to do is be you! Trust me. It’ll always resonate with anyone watching.
How did you get started?
I was cast for the role of (everybody’s favorite) Kemp! [In “Family”] the second feature film I auditioned for my very first time out the gate as an actor. I’ll share a secret that no one knows… I wasn’t originally called in for the role of Kemp. I came in to audition for various co-star and supporting roles that were quickly cast by my lovely castmates… I wasn’t doing an outstanding job auditioning for the other [more feminine] roles. I was masking who I truly was, not only as an actor but as Charyse Monet.
My mindset was (as in all auditions) give the casting director what I thought a queer actor was. And in doing that, I wasn’t coming from a truthful place, while trying to fit their mold. It definitely showed! Wasn’t until I saw and heard the possible Kemps walking in and out of the audition that I was like, “I can do that! Hell, I am that!” In my heart, knowing that I wasn’t feeling any of the other roles I auditioned for, Faith and I had a quick conversation and she asked me if I would come back to audition for the role of Kemp. Her only bit of advice to me: “Charyse I want to see Kemp walking through that door.” And the rest is (her)story!
It’s rare to see out LGBT women of color, especially in the film industry. Do you feel a sense of community with other LGBT people of color in this industry?
You’re right, it’s very rare to see out women of color in the industry. I can’t give one specific reason as to why, but just like you and your readers, I can make my own assumption. You have to understand not everyone in Film / TV (in front of or behind the camera) has the type of security / support needed to make such a private thing so very public. I’d like to say I feel a sense of community with all people, not just within the unity of my LGBT family. But, again, reality steps in and the truth of the matter is there is competition.
What do you think can be done to increase the support for queer actors and actresses of color?
Unless a writer, producer, director etc. specifically sets out to cast, fund and release a project focused on the LGBT community, it won’t happen. If there’s going to be any type of progress with seeing more queer women of color on Film / TV etc., there needs to be more who’ll say: “Fuck it! I’m me and I want to see more of me.” There will be no progress with us unless more of us push for progress.
Do you feel your sexuality is an important part of your work? What role does it play?
I’m sure it’s important in some aspects. However, I’m an actor and no matter what role I’m cast in, it’s my responsibility as an actor to portray that character as truthfully and honestly as I possibly can. Fakeness bleeds through and in some cases so does sexuality.
The film “Family” is about coming out. How has coming out been for you? Professionally and personally?
Coming out is different for everyone… Professionally that’s a decision that has to be carefully weighed. Once it’s done, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. We’ve all seen people come out and have their careers ruined because of it. Then there are those who flourish in the midst of it. To each his/her own… Shine wherever you are. I’m still waiting for the day when all things are based on your quality / body of work and not your sexuality. Time will tell.
There have been a lot of rumors about Raven Symone lately, and people have always speculated on Queen Latifah’s sexuality. Thoughts? Which actors, in your opinion, should come out?
…Queen Latifah, who didn’t know? And who stopped loving her because of it? Not me! Once I saw “Set It Off” I was like: “I want to do that!” I’m waiting my turn to star alongside Latifah in a feature film… Queen Latifah by the way, is one of the reasons I became a rapper.
As for Raven Symone, she’s living her life her way. Who can hate on that? I’ve always been a fan.
What actress of color do I want to see come out? Any actress who feels as if she’s locked in, stuck, held back or frozen with fear with thoughts of not being accepted for who she is, authentically.
It’s clear from Monet’s words that though it may be difficult to be out in an industry that is plagued with homophobia and racism, there are those who will fight to be seen and heard.
If more people will support projects for and about LGBT people of color, queer actors and actresses of color may feel secure enough to come out. And if more queer actresses of color feel safe enough to come out, perhaps other women of color will feel they can come out. Hopefully, others will look to Monet’s example of authentic living and feel supported enough to let their truth shine.