Pride 2021: Kristen Stewart, Lee Daniels, Steven Canals and More LGBTQ Entertainers of the Year
By ETonline Editors
In celebration of Pride Month, ET is once again recognizing those who had an impact in the entertainment industry, whether it was via music, film or television, and helped shape pop over the past year. Additionally, several names on this list have major projects coming out over the next few months that will continue to expand diversity, inclusion and representation for the LGBTQ+ community.
As always, LGBTQ+ visibility matters, especially as the community rallies together in support of much-needed legislation like the Equality Act, push back on bigotry and discrimination as well as break new ground onscreen and off, whether it's pushing the boundaries of storytelling onscreen or bending genres and topping the charts.
Steven Canals, who co-created Pose with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, noted to ET how just five years ago, content creators weren’t being as thoughtful or intentional about telling authentic queer stories. Now, as the groundbreaking and celebrated series comes to an end, it’s changed TV for the better.
Actor, The Prom
A triple threat, Ariana DeBose broke onto the scene as a competitor on So You Think You Can Dance in 2009, kicking off a stage career that included an ensemble part in Hamilton, both in the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions (the latter of which was recorded for a Disney+ film), before nabbing starring roles in A Bronx Tale and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. She made the leap to film in Ryan Murphy's earnest 2020 adaptation of The Prom, playing closeted love interest Alyssa Greene. And in addition to appearing opposite Keegan-Michael Key in Apple TV+’s musical series, Schmigadoon!, she is set to take an even more iconic role later this year, playing Anita in Steven Spielberg's anticipated remake of West Side Story. “I have always wanted to make art that I thought was a conversation starter,” DeBose told ET ahead of The Prom's release in December. “To be a part of two films that allows for that conversation to happen, to go further into pre-existing conversations, it’s really exciting.” -- Meredith Kile
Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander
Actors, Star Trek: Discovery
Actors Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander made Star Trek history when both were introduced during season 4 of the Paramount+ original Star Trek: Discovery. Del Barrio, who made their acting debut on the series, portrayed the franchise's first non-binary character, Adira, while Alexander played its first trans character, Gray. For both young actors, blazing the trail for the LGBTQ+ community in a storied sci-fi franchise such as Star Trek held personal significance. “Getting this job and getting to play Adira was really overwhelming at first, but overall a massive blessing because it allowed me to explore myself. I've grown alongside Adira. It's a really strange way for it to happen, but I'm so glad that it has,” del Barrio, whose real-life journey of discovering their identity mirrored that of Adira's, said in October. Alexander had a similar outlook, crediting co-stars Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp for being a guiding light. “For pretty much the entire history of the film industry, trans people have been sort of a taboo topic or something that was presented as negative. I think I really have grown a lot since joining Star Trek and realizing my worth and being uplifted by the amazing cast and crew and people around me,” he said. “And recognizing that I do have a place in this amazing, wonderful franchise and this universe that it's just so cool to be a part of.” -- Philiana Ng
Rapper, Once Upon a Time
Though she was nominated for Best New Artist at the GRAMMYs and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding New Artist following the release of her 2020 EP, Industry Games, Chika has been making a space for herself and those like her in the industry for years. In addition to modeling for Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2, the 24-year-old rapper is outspoken, unapologetic and unafraid of being explicitly queer in her music. Her latest EP, Once Upon a Time, is no exception. “I wanted to be able to tell some stories from my childhood, how a queer Black female would view a lot of the things in the world,” Chika said in March, simply explaining: “[I’m] painting new narratives.” -- Jennifer Drysdale
Clea DuVall and Kristen Stewart
Director and Actor, Happiest Season
"Growing up as a gay kid, I never saw myself represented in any movies, much less a holiday film," longtime actress-turned-directorClea DuVall told ET. So, she made one: Happiest Season, a Christmas rom-com that centers its queer characters amid the hijinks and heart-warming moments of the genre. Kristen Stewart, in one of her best performances, plays Abby, who travels to the childhood home of her girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis), only to realize her girlfriend isn't out to her family. “It’s a big, commercial movie backed by a studio,” Stewart said. One that hails from an openly queer writer-director and stars an openly queer actor in the lead role and paved the way for a new subgenre of queer holiday films. Merry Christmas, indeed. -- John Boone
Actor, Euphoria and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
A consistent force in the industry for decades, Colman Domingo has become a real standout in recent years with roles as Victor Strand on the AMC spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, Ali on HBO’s Euphoria, and Cutler in Netflix’s adaptation of the August Wilson play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Notably, the latter two have deftly mixed queer and Black experiences to much acclaim. “Hopefully shows like Euphoria and films like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom are moving the dial on our humanity and making sure that everyone has the right to be exactly who they are,” Domingo said, noting he’s “been able to be a bit more open in my life because I think it’s even more important now.” And that newfound vulnerability and his commitment to the work has made him even more in demand, with back-to-back releases, Without Remorse, Zola, The God Committee and Candyman, all coming out this year. -- J.D.
After Ruby Rose's unexpected departure after one season of Batwoman, Javicia Leslie took over the mantle as The CW's eponymous heroine as Ryan Wilder, who, like predecessor Kate Kane, is queer. And the rising star, who previously appeared on God Friended Me, put her own mark on DC lore as the first Black woman to play the superhero in a live-action series. For 34-year-old Leslie, stepping into Ryan's shoes has been profoundly gratifying. “It's an honor that me walking in my truth, me walking in my skin, me walking in my shoes opens doors for other people to be able to do that in the biggest capacity ever,” she said. -- P.N.
Actor, Saved by the Bell and Big Mouth
Josie Totah was never going to fly under the radar. Following scene-stealing turns on Glee and Other People, and a breakout role in Champions, the 19-year-old actress publicly came out as a trans woman in 2018, making a seamless transition to standout female roles. In 2020, Totah made her debut on two acclaimed comedies, starring on Saved by the Bell as Lexi, a snarky cheerleader-slash-influencer whose frenemy-ship with Mitchell Hoog's Mac Morris led to some of the reboot's most hilarious moments, and as the voice behind Big Mouth’s first trans character, Natalie. In a multi-episode arc, the series balanced the struggles of transitioning in high school with its notoriously raunchy, warts-and-all take on puberty. “I think that is what’s so important about representation now, and what we look to for the work that we need to do for representation in the future, is getting to have these types of characters, but not making it all about ‘X,’ all about race, all about their gender, all about their sexual orientation,” Totah said ahead of Saved by the Bell’s Thanksgiving debut. “The way we tell this story in a dynamic, layered way is just so fun to watch and play. And it makes my job easier.” -- M.K.
While much older than his character, Chester, a high school teen in the unapologetically queer and Gen Z dramedy, Generation, Justice Smith is very much loving to get to step in his shoes. “I’ve never played a character like Chester and I was very interested in exploring somebody who wears it all on their sleeve,” the actor said of the character, who is described as “fabulous, funny and fearless.” Off-screen, the self-identified introvert has even started taking cues from Chester, most notably his confidence and energy that Smith is ready “to put forth into the public.” And as he continues to land bigger and bigger roles, he’ll need it. Next up for Smith is Jurassic World: Dominion and Dungeons & Dragons. “The character I play, again, is very different from someone I’ve played before,” he said of the latter, promising to keep mixing it up onscreen. -- Stacy Lambe
Director, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
In February, Lee Daniels said something unexpected: “I would’ve never known that I could have come this far. I dared to dream.” But considering the kind of groundbreaking, boundary-pushing auteur he has become, it should be no surprise he’s one of the top filmmakers today. With the release of The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Daniels was finally back in awards conversation over a decade after Precious broke through at the Oscars. In the years since, he’s gained notoriety for telling unabashed Black and queer stories, like The Butler and TV’s Empire and Star. “I wanna make sure that every Black person can see a little bit of themselves in every film that I do when it's all over,” said Daniels, who is also behind the upcoming reboot of The Wonder Years. “That I have been able to capture your mother, your partner, that’s my job. I wanna make sure that we see ourselves because… I didn't growing up.” -- S.L.
Internet Sensation and Actor, Call Me Kat
There's making the most of a bad situation and then there's Leslie Jordan, who took the global pandemic and turned it into a one-man variety show. “I had 80,000 followers and then all of a sudden, it started climbing," he said of going viral as the king of quarantine with his humorous and relatable home videos earning him 5.7 million Instagram followers who needed a laugh, now more than ever. Now 66 years old, last year turned out to be the longtime performer’s biggest of his career. While he’s appeared in just about everything imaginable, Jordan’s most recent turn has been as a cheeky and new single gay baker on Call Me Kat and as Reginald Lord Devine in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Additionally, he parlayed his success with the release of the gospel music albumCompany’s Comin’, and his newest memoir, titled, appropriately, How Y'All Doing? “I’m just having a good time,” Jordan said. -- J.B.
When P-Valley premiered on Starz, it not only tapped into the zeitgeist with its depiction of Southern strip club culture, it also produced a breakout star by the name of Nicco Annan, who plays the eccentric, non-binary owner and fierce protector of The Pynk named Uncle Clifford. The performance resulted in much-deserved nominations for a NAACP Image Award and an Independent Spirit Award. When it comes to being recognized, Annan said, “I feel like, ‘Wow. You saw it. Like, you saw the hunger, you saw the fight.’” He added at the time, “It feels amazing. It feels like, ‘Yes, you see me. You see the work. You see the stories of these women.’” Additionally, everyone’s favorite scene-stealing uncle landed with LGBTQ+ audiences in a big way, making room for characters rarely portrayed onscreen. “It’s like, ‘OK. So, people are feeling seen,” the actor noted with appreciation. “There are so many community groups within the culture that are just feeling recognized.” -- S.L.
Russell T. Davies
Creator, It’s a Sin
Following groundbreaking and award-winning LGBTQ-centric shows like Queer as Folk, Banana/Cucumber, season 1 of A Very English Scandal and 2020’s Years and Years, Russell T. Davies struck an unexpected chord with audiences both in the U.K. and the U.S. with his latest, limited series about the lives of twentysomething gay men living in London as they face the growing and deadly AIDS crisis. Described by the writer as an “innocent story of a young generation walking into a slaughter,” It’s a Sin features a remarkable balance of comedy, sex and heartbreak that fills every episode with a full range of emotions that takes viewers on unexpected journeys. “That is how I write,” he quipped. But that said, it worked, with Davies awed by the “extraordinary things happening around the show that I’ve never seen happen before.” -- S.L.
After first appearing as the scene-stealing “trans-truther” waitress Lola in the short-lived Hulu series Difficult People, and later as Ava, a weed dealer and spiritual stand-in for Maura in the Transparent musical finale, Shakina Nayfack landed her biggest role yet: the out-of-work sports fan Ellis on Connecting..., becoming the first trans person to have a starring role on an American network comedy series. “I was so excited to play an out trans character on an NBC sitcom because that is the cornerstone of family entertainment,” Nayfack said, adding, “I love that Ellis’ transness is just one part of who she is.” While her role onscreen was a breakthrough for TV, it also led to more representation and inclusion behind the scenes, with trans writer Chloe Keenan added to the team as the result of Nayfack’s casting. “I thought that was just such an awesome idea because that’s what trans actors have been advocating for for years,” she said. -- S.L.
Actor, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and In the Heights
With Brooklyn Nine-Nine and In the Heights, authenticity was key for Stephanie Beatriz. The 40-year-old and Short Term 12 alum first made waves as the smart but tough Detective Rosa Diaz, who came out to her colleagues and family members on season 4 of the celebrated comedy series, which is set to wrap up its eight and final season in August. Earlier this summer, she’s shedding Rosa’s tough persona for the lively Carla, who is in a long-term relationship with salon owner Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), in director Jon M. Chu’s film adaptation of In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit 2008 Broadway musical. Written for the screen by Quiara Alegria Hudes, Beatriz revealed to ET that Miranda, Chu and Hudes “all felt really strongly that [Carla and Daniela] should be life partners as well.” She added that “what’s really great for me, as someone who is queer, as a member of the queer community, who is bisexual, is to see that rep in a film where it’s just layered into the community, sort of in the background. And they’re this really functional, fun, happy, funny couple that just happen to be gay.” -- P.N.
Steven Canals received his MFA in screenwriting from UCLA in 2015, and just six years later, he’s wrapped the third and final season of Pose, the Emmy-winning and history-making series about Black and brown gay men and transgender women of New York City’s underground ballroom scene. The co-creator (as well as writer and director), who signed an overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV last year, initially struggled to get the series off the ground, often being told the story was too niche for audiences. But now, after Pose has emptied audiences’ tissue boxes and earned its star, Billy Porter, an Emmy for his performance as emcee Pray Tell, there’s no doubting that it has changed “television for the better.” While reflecting on the show’s legacy during the season 3 premiere, he noted how Pose has inspired content creators to be more “intentional about the stories that they tell,” by casting authentically, especially when it comes to trans roles. “Those are things that we weren’t talking about even five years ago.” -- J.D.