The 25 African American LGBTQ+ People that Hollywood should consider making a biopic about right away

Our list of “The 25 African American LGBTQ+ people that Hollywood should consider making a biopic about right away” represents people from all walks of life. These entertainers, politicians, journalists, activists, and athletes have blazed the trail for generations. Just when you thought living while black in America was problematic, these people have two strikes against them. Ultimately, their collective stories of tragedy turned into triumphs should be a call to action to inspire all straight and gay alike. Hopefully, someone in Hollywood is listening and will consider their stories.

Photo Credit: Allan Warren 

James Baldwin

Ideal Actor to play this role: Jeremy Pope

James Arthur Baldwin garnered acclaim across various media, including essays, novels, plays, and poems. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was published in 1953; decades later, Time  magazine included the book on its list of the 100 best English-language novels released from 1923 to 2005. His first essay collection, Notes of a Native Son, was published in 1955.

Baldwin’s work fictionalizes fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures. Themes of masculinity, sexuality, race and class intertwine to create intricate narratives that run parallel with some of the major political movements toward social change in mid-twentieth century America, such as the civil rights movement and the gay liberation movement. Baldwin’s protagonists are often but not exclusively African American, and gay and bisexual men frequently feature prominently in his literature. 

Ruth Ellis 

Ruth Charlotte Ellis was an African-American woman who became widely known as the oldest surviving open lesbian, and LGBT rights activist at the age of 101.

Ellis came out as a lesbian around 1915 (with help from a psychology textbook) but claims to never have had to come out as her family was rather accepting. She graduated from Springfield High School in 1919, when fewer than seven percent of African Americans graduated from secondary school. In the 1920s, she met the only woman she ever lived with, Ceciline “Babe” Franklin. They moved together to Detroit, Michigan, in 1937.

Audre Lorde

Audrey Geraldine Lorde was a writer, womanist, radical feminist, professor, and civil rights activist. She was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” who “dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.  

As a poet, she is well known for technical mastery and emotional expression, as well as her poems that express anger and outrage at civil and social injustices she observed throughout her life. As a spoken word artist, her delivery has been called powerful, melodic, and intense by the Poetry Foundation. Her poems and prose largely deal with issues related to civil rights, feminism, lesbianism, illness and disability, and the exploration of black female identity. 

Zora Neale Hurston

Ideal Actress to play this role: Aunjanue Ellis

Zora Neale Hurston portrayed racial struggles in the early-1900s American South and published research on hoodoo. She also wrote fiction about contemporary issues in the Black community and became a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Her short satires, drawing from the African-American experience and racial division, were published in anthologies such as The New Negro and Fire!! After moving back to Florida, Hurston wrote and published her literary anthology on African-American folklore in North Florida, Mules and Men (1935), and her first three novels: Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934); Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937); and Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939). Also published during this time was Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (1938), documenting her research on rituals in Jamaica and Haiti.

Hurston’s works concerned the African-American experience and her struggles as an African-American woman. Her novels went relatively unrecognized by the literary world for decades. Interest was revived in 1975 after author Alice Walker published an article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” (later retitled “Looking for Zora”), in the March issue of Ms. magazine that year. 

Hurston’s manuscript Every Tongue Got to Confess, a collection of folktales gathered in the 1920s, was published posthumously in 2001 after being discovered in the Smithsonian archives. 

Bayard Rustin

Ideal Actor to play this role: Leslie Odom Jr. (think stage) or Chiwetel Ejiofor

Bayard Rustin worked with A. Philip Randolph, on the March on Washington Movement, in 1941, to press for an end to racial discrimination in employment. Rustin later organized Freedom Rides, and helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership and teaching King about nonviolence; he later served as an organizer for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rustin worked alongside Ella Baker, a co-director of the Crusade for Citizenship, in 1954. Before the Montgomery bus boycott, he helped organize a group called “In Friendship” among Baker, Stanley Levison of the American Jewish Congress, and other labor leaders. “In Friendship” provided material and legal assistance to those evicted from their tenant farms and households in Clarendon County, Yazoo, and other places. Rustin became the head of the AFL–CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute, which promoted the integration of formerly all-white unions and African Americans’ unionization. During the 1970s and 1980s, Rustin served on many humanitarian missions, such as aiding refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. At the time of his death in 1987, he was on a humanitarian mission in Haiti.

Rustin was a gay man, and due to criticism over his sexuality, he usually acted as an influential adviser behind the scenes to civil-rights leaders. In the 1980s, he became a public advocate for gay causes, speaking at events as an activist and supporter of human rights. 

Later in life, while still devoted to securing workers’ rights, Rustin joined other union leaders in aligning with ideological neo-conservatism, and (after his death) President Ronald Reagan praised him. On November 20, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Note: In February 2021, it was reported that George C. Wolfe would direct a film based on the life of Bayard Rustin from a script by Dustin Lance Black. In October 2021, Colman Domingo was cast as Rustin. The film will be released in 2023 by Netflix Films.

Essex Hemphill

Ideal Actor to play this role: Tyler James Williams (work with me)

Essex Hemphill is known for his contributions to the Washington, DC, art scene in the 1980s and for openly discussing the topics pertinent to the African-American gay community.

He began writing poetry at fourteen, writing about his thoughts, family life, and budding sexuality. After graduation, he enrolled at the University of Maryland in 1975 to study journalism. Though he left college after his first year, he continued interacting with the DC art scene: performing spoken word, working on journals, and beginning to publish his first poetry chapbooks. He would go on to achieve his degree in English at the University of the District of Columbia. 

Photo Credit: Carl Van Vechten

Alvin Ailey 

Ideal Actor to play this role: Dyllón Burnside (at least young Alvin Ailey)

Alvin Ailey Jr. was an American dancer, director, choreographer, and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT). He created AAADT and its affiliated Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (later Ailey School) as havens for nurturing Black artists and expressing the universality of the African-American experience through dance.

A gay man, his work fused theater, modern dance, ballet, and jazz with Black vernacular, creating hope-fueled choreography that continues to spread global awareness of Black life in America. Ailey’s choreographic masterpiece Revelations is recognized as one of the world’s most popular and most performed ballets. 

On July 15, 2008, the United States Congress passed a resolution designating AAADT as a “vital American cultural ambassador to the world. That same year, in recognition of AAADT’s 50th anniversary, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared December 4 “Alvin Ailey Day” in New York City, while then-Governor David Paterson honored the organization on behalf of New York State.

Cece McDonald

CeCe McDonald is an African American, Trans woman, and LGBTQ activist. She came to national attention in June 2012 for accepting a plea bargain of 41 months for second-degree manslaughter of a man she stabbed after McDonald, and her friends were assaulted in Minneapolis outside a bar near closing time. The attack, a year prior, was widely seen as racist and transphobic, and became physical when McDonald was struck in the face by the man’s friend with “an alcoholic drink” glass causing a bleeding gash that needed stitches. 

According to Mother Jones, when McDonald was attempting to escape the bar, the man came after her. McDonald “took a pair of scissors out of her purse and turned around to face [him]; he was stabbed in the chest and died from the wound. McDonald said she saw how her case was progressing, so she took the plea bargain rather than face trial and risked a possible 20-year term. According to the Bay Area Reporter, her conviction “sparked outrage, and was viewed by many as an act of transphobia and racism against a woman who defended herself. Although a woman, McDonald was housed in two men’s prisons. An online petition “led to the state department of corrections administering the full regimen of hormones she needed.” 

Her story got international attention, including in May 2013, when an article about the case won the GLAAD Media Award for “Outstanding Digital Journalism Article.” 

McDonald was released in January 2014 after serving 19 months. 

E. Lynn Harris 

Ideal Actor to play this role: Shemar Moore (work with me)

E. Lynn Harris was best known for his depictions of African-American men who were on the down-low and closeted. He authored ten consecutive books that made The New York Times Best Seller list, making him among the most successful African-American or gay authors of his era. 

In his writings, Harris maintained a poignant motif, occasionally passionate, that incorporated vernacular and slang from popular culture. 

In June 2019, Harris was one of the inaugural fifty American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.

Althea Garrison

Althea Garrison is an independent American politician from Boston, Massachusetts, who has served on the Boston City Council as an at-large councilor.

Garrison was elected as a Republican to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1992 and served one term from 1993 to 1995. Both before and after Garrison’s successful bid for office, she has run unsuccessfully in multiple elections for the state legislature and Boston City Council as a Republican, Democrat, or independent, which has resulted in her being described in the media as a “perennial candidate.” Garrison is also the first transgender person to be elected to a state legislature in the United States. She was outed against her will by the Boston Herald after her election in 1992.

Garrison later served as an at-large member of the Boston City Council from January 2019 to January 2020 due to a vacancy left by Ayanna Pressley’s election to the United States House of Representatives. Because Garrison was the next-place finisher in the 2017 Boston City Council election, she was eligible to take office per City Council rules.

She was not re-elected in November 2019. 

Photo Credit Alfred Eisenstaedt

Alain Locke 

Ideal Actor to play this role: Terrance Howard

Alain LeRoy Locke was an American writer, philosopher, educator, and arts patron. Distinguished in 1907 as the first African-American Rhodes Scholar, Locke became known as the philosophical architect —the acknowledged “Dean”— of the Harlem Renaissance. He is frequently included in listings of influential African Americans. On March 19, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed: “We’re going to let our children know that the only philosophers that lived were not Plato and Aristotle, but W. E. B. Du Bois and Alain Locke came through the universe. 


Ideal Actor to play this role: Tituss Burgess

Sylvester James Jr. was known for his flamboyant, androgynous appearance, falsetto singing voice, and hit disco singles in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Born in Watts, Los Angeles, to a middle-class African-American family, Sylvester developed a love of singing through the gospel choir of his Pentecostal church. Leaving the church after the congregation expressed disapproval of his homosexuality, he found friendship among a group of black cross-dressers and transgender women who called themselves the Disquotays. Sylvester moved to San Francisco in 1970 at the age of 22 and embraced the counterculture. He joined the avant-garde drag troupe the Cockettes. 

Focusing on a solo career, Sylvester signed a recording contract with Harvey Fuqua of Fantasy Records. He obtained three new backing singers in the form of Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes – the “Two Tons O’ Fun” – as well as Jeanie Tracy. His first solo album, Sylvester (1977), was moderately successful. This was followed by the acclaimed disco album Step II (1978), which spawned the singles “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat),” both of which were hits in the US and Europe. 

Sylvester was an activist who campaigned against the spread of HIV/AIDS. He died from complications from the virus in 1988, leaving all future royalties from his work to San Francisco-based HIV/AIDS charities.

Alice Walker

Ideal Actress to play this role: Yolonda Ross

Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which she was awarded for her novel The Color Purple. Throughout her career, Walker has published seventeen books and short story collections, twelve non-fiction works, and collections of essays and poetry.

Arthur Mitchell

Ideal Actor to play this role: Richard Brooks

Arthur Mitchell was an American ballet dancer, choreographer, founder, and director of ballet companies. In 1955, he was the first African-American dancer with the New York City Ballet. He was promoted to principal dancer the following year and played significant roles until 1966. He founded ballet companies in Spoleto, Washington, DC, and Brazil. In 1969, he founded a training school and the first African-American classical ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Among other awards, Mitchell was recognized as a MacArthur Fellow, inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame, and received the United States National Medal of Arts and a Fletcher Foundation fellowship.

André De Shields 

André Robin De Shields is an American actor, singer, dancer, director, and choreographer.

De Shields originated the role of Hermes on Broadway in the musical Hadestown, winning the 2019 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical and the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album for his performance. He has also appeared on television and won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for his performance in the 1982 NBC broadcast of Ain’t Misbehavin.’

He currently serves as an adjunct professor at Gallatin.

Ritchie Torres

Ideal Actor to play this role: Terrence J, Laz Alonzo

Ritchie John Torres is a member of the Democratic Party, and Torres is the US representative for New York’s 15th congressional district. The district covers most of the South Bronx, one of the smallest districts by area in the country. It covers only a few square miles. Torres represents the poorest Congressional district in New York State.

Torres served as the New York City Council member for the 15th district from 2013 to 2020. He was the first openly gay candidate elected to legislative office in the Bronx and the council’s youngest member. Torres chaired the Committee on Public Housing and was a deputy majority leader. As chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee, he focused on taxi medallions, predatory loans, and the city’s Third Party Transfer Program. In 2016, Torres was a delegate for the Bernie Sanders campaign.

In July 2019, Torres announced his bid for New York’s 15th congressional district to succeed Representative José E. Serrano. The community is one of the most Democratic-leaning congressional districts in the country. Torres won the November 2020 general election and assumed office on January 3, 2021. This made him and Mondaire Jones the first openly gay Black men elected to Congress. It also made Torres the first openly gay Afro-Latino elected to Congress. As such, he is one of the nine co-chairs of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus in the 117th United States Congress.

Janet Mock

Ideal Actress to play this role: Michaela Antonia Jaé Rodriguez

Janet Mock is an American writer, television host, director, and producer; she is a transgender rights activist. Her debut book, the memoir Redefining Realness, became a New York Times bestseller. She is a contributing editor for Marie Claire and a former staff editor of People magazine’s website. 

Assigned male at birth, Mock began her transition as a freshman in high school and funded her medical transition by earning money as a sex worker in her teens. At fifteen, Mock was introduced to the world of sex work. Mocks says, “I went dressed up with my friends; we hung out with older girls, and when I say older girls, I was 15, and some of them were 18 to 25, but they were light-years ahead of us in terms of their identities and their own transitions, of their confidence in their bodies, of proclaiming themselves to themselves and to one another. It was deeply a space of sisterhood and socializing for me.” The sex worker experience. However, it brings “deep sadness” and was her means of survival as a trans person of color. She played volleyball in high school, a sport she had bonded over with her childhood friend Wendi, who helped Mock express her femininity. Mock explains that when she first met Wendi, she asked if Mock was an māhū. Mock describes māhū as “a label for those who live outside the gender binary.” She also added that her hula instructor at the time was an māhū or trans woman. She chose her name Janet after Janet Jackson.

Glenn Burke

Ideal Actor to play this role: Stephen Tyrone Williams, Daniel Kaluuya

Glenn Lawrence Burke was a Major League Baseball (MLB) player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from 1976 to 1979. He was forcibly “outed” against his will to his teammates and the teams’ owners, thus becoming the first MLB player known to have been openly gay while playing in Major League Baseball.

Though he would eventually embrace his sexuality publicly, being outed involuntarily ultimately proved to be an emotional, psychological, and professional burden he could no longer endure, leading to his retirement from Major League Baseball after only four years stating, “They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors because I’m a gay man and I made it.” 

Burke kept active in sports after retiring from baseball. He competed in the 1982 Gay Olympics, now re-named Gay Games, in track and in 1986 in basketball. He played for many years in the San Francisco Gay Softball League.

He died from AIDS-related causes in 1995. In August 2013, Burke was among the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. Burke was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals in 2015.

Mondaire L. Jones

Ideal Actor to play this role: D.B Woodside

Since 2021, Mondaire L. Jones has been the US representative for New York’s 17th congressional district. The area includes most of central and northwestern Westchester County and Rockland County. A member of the Democratic Party, he and Ritchie Torres are the first openly gay black members of Congress.

Jones sought reelection in 2022 in New York’s 10th district instead of the 18th to avoid a heated primary fight with DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney but lost the primary to attorney Dan Goldman.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 2009. After graduating from Stanford, Jones interned at the US Department of Justice during the presidency of Barack Obama. He then earned his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 2013.

André Talley

Ideal Actor to play this role: Billy Porter, Colman Domingo

André Leon Talley was an American fashion journalist, stylist, creative director, and editor-at-large of Vogue magazine. He was the magazine’s fashion news director from 1983 to 1987, its first African-American male creative director from 1988 to 1995, and then its editor-at-large from 1998 to 2013. Often regarded as a fashion icon, he was known for supporting emerging designers and advocating for diversity in the fashion industry, while the capes, kaftans, and robes he wore became his trademark look. 

He also authored three books, including the memoir The Chiffon Trenches, which landed on The New York Times Best Seller list and co-authored a book with Richard Bernstein. Talley was the editor-at-large of Numéro Russia in 2013 before resigning due to anti-LGBT laws in Russia. He additionally worked stints with Andy Warhol at InterviewWomen’s Wear DailyWEbony, and The New York Times. 

He was featured in the documentaries The First Monday in May and The September Issue. He was the subject of the documentary, The Gospel According to André, directed by Kate Novack.

Joseph Beam

Ideal Actor to play this role: Columbus Short

Joseph Fairchild Beam was an African-American gay rights activist, writer, and poet. 

In the early 1980s, Beam began working at Giovanni’s Room, an independent gay and lesbian bookstore in Philadelphia. At the same time, he wrote and was active in local and national efforts for acceptance, visibility, and social justice for the Black gay community. 

Beam’s short stories, Brother to Brother and No Cheek to Turn, were critically acclaimed. Beam had an extensive network of friends and correspondents, including Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Essex Hemphill, Daniel Garrett, Sonia Sanchez, and Bayard Rustin. 

Beam was the editor of In the Life (1986), the first anthology of poetry and prose by Black gay men for which he received a Citation from the State House of Rhode Island in 1987 and a Commendation from the City of Philadelphia. Beam began a second anthology, Brother to Brother, named after an earlier short story of his, but died before it was completed. Essex Hemphill and Beam’s mother, Dorothy, finished the collection, published as Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men in 1991. 

Julius Eastman

Ideal Actor to play this role: Donald Glover

Julius Eastman was an American composer, pianist, vocalist, and performance artist whose work is associated with musical minimalism. He was among the first composers to combine minimalist processes with elements of pop music and involve experimental methods of extending and modifying music in creating what he called “organic music.” He often gave his pieces titles with provocative political intent, such as Evil Nigger and Gay Guerrilla, and has been acclaimed following new performances and reissues of his music.

Eastman grew up in Ithaca, New York, with his mother and younger brother. He began studying piano at age 14 and made rapid progress. He studied at Ithaca College before transferring to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. There he studied piano with Mieczysław Horszowski and composition with Constant Vauclain and switched majors from piano to composition, graduating in 1963. He debuted as a pianist in 1966 at The Town Hall in New York City. Eastman had a rich, deep, and extremely flexible singing voice. He became noted for his 1973 Nonesuch recording of Eight Songs for a Mad King by the British composer Peter Maxwell Davies. Eastman’s talents gained the attention of composer-conductor Lukas Foss, who conducted Davies’ music in performance at the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

Despite a temporary attempt at a comeback, Eastman died alone at 49 in Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo, New York, of cardiac arrest. No public notice was given to his death until an obituary by Kyle Gann appeared in the Village Voice; it was dated January 22, 1991, eight months after Eastman died. Eastman’s notational methods were loose and open to interpretation. Hence, a revival of his music was difficult, depending on the people working with him.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was an outspoken advocate for gay rights. Johnson was one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. Though some mistakenly credited Johnson for starting the riots, Johnson was always forthcoming about not being present when the riots began. 

Johnson was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the radical activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) alongside close friend Sylvia Rivera. Johnson was also a popular figure in New York City’s gay and art scene, modeling for Andy Warhol and performing onstage with the drag performance troupe Hot Peaches. Johnson was known as the “mayor of Christopher Street” due to being welcoming presence in the streets of Greenwich Village. From 1987 through 1992, Johnson was an AIDS activist with ACT UP.

Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River in 1992. Initially (and quickly) ruled a suicide by the NYPD, controversy and protest followed, eventually leading to a re-opening of the case as a possible homicide. 

Marlon Riggs

Ideal Actor to play this role: nonbinary performer Carl Clemons-Hopkins

Marlon Troy Riggs produced, wrote, and directed several documentary films, including Ethnic Notions, Tongues UntiedColor Adjustment and Black Is…Black Ain’t. His films examine past and present representations of race and sexuality in the United States. The Marlon Riggs Collection is housed at Stanford University Libraries. 

While a student at Harvard, Riggs realized that he was gay. Because no courses supported the study of homosexuality, he petitioned the History Department. He received approval to pursue an independent study of the portrayal of “male homosexuality in American fiction and poetry.” As he began studying the history of American racism and homophobia, Riggs became interested in communicating his ideas about these subjects through film.

Source: Wikipedia