Actress Samira Wiley wants to see more straight actors step aside for queer actors

Actress Samira Wiley, who is currently starring in her first UK stage role in ‘Blues for an Alabama Sky’ at the National Theatre, wants to see more straight actors step aside for queer actors.

She says: “For our entire history, in my queer community we haven’t been able to play our own characters because this guy is getting an Oscar for playing that guy and this woman’s getting an Oscar for playing gay and it’s so amazing because none of them are gay, right? But actually it’s like ‘Wouldn’t it be revolutionary if…’. There’s work that needs to be done there. I’d love to see more heterosexual actors stepping aside and saying ‘No, that’s not my story to tell right now’. I don’t think the conversation is the same on the other side. It’s just not a problem we’ve ever had, like ‘Straight people can’t play straight people’. That’s not a world we’ve lived in. Once it’s no longer an issue where queer people don’t feel they’re able to tell their own stories, once that’s a level playing field, then it will get to a point where it doesn’t matter who’s playing what.”

Best known for roles in hit shows Orange is the New Black and The Handmaid’s Tale, Wiley plays Angel in ‘Blues for an Alabama Sky’, a cabaret singer, who shares a flat with her gay best friend (Giles Terera), a fashion designer, who falls for Leland (Osy Ikhile) whose conservative views clash with hers and those in her more liberal friendship circle.

The play by Pearl Cleage and directed by Lynette Linton is set in New York during 1930, and focuses on the Harlem Renaissance during the Great Depression. It tackles themes of race, sexuality and abortion as well as gay pride and although set nearly a century ago, still feels very relevant and isn’t far removed from the conversations of today.

She says: “When the director Lynette [Linton] first brought me the play in 2019 I said to her ‘How could it be more timely?’ Little did I know that in the next two or three years Roe v. Wade would be no more. Especially in my home country, all of the things we’re talking about in this play are things we’re talking about in real life. It feels important and something I want to be giving my voice to. I’m really passionate about women’s rights, about LGBT+ rights and about people being seen as three-dimensional human beings. Ultimately I think this story is a tragedy but for at least the entire first act you’re just watching Black joy. Even though hard times are going on around them, in the middle of the Depression in Harlem, this group of friends get through it by going ‘What are we gonna do tonight? We’re gonna party!”

Blues for An Alabama Sky is at the National Theatre, London, until 5 November.

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