Past. Present. Pride: Amelia Abraham Meets Omari Douglas
When Russell T. Davies’ TV show It’s A Sin was released in January 2021, the emotional outpouring from viewers was huge. Partly because this was mainstream television finally addressing the effects of the AIDS crisis in Britain. Partly because we were in another pandemic, and many people whose lives had not been directly affected by AIDS could finally understand the destruction that it caused. Then there was the show itself; smart but accessible writing, a storyline that centred women as well as gay men, and charismatic but confrontational lead characters who at once challenged audiences and challenged the idea that queer characters need to be 100% likeable to be “good representation”. Instead, It’s A Sin gave us a portrait of young gay men who were fallible, fearful, deeply human.
Roscoe Babatunde was one such character, and the first TV role for British actor Omari Douglas after a successful career on stage, propelling 27-year-old Wolverhampton-born Douglas into the spotlight. As part of Browns’ Past. Present. Pride. Campaign, Douglas told us about his queer heroes and hopes for the LGBTQ+ community.
You chose the musician David McAlmont as your Past. Present. Pride hero, I’d love to know more about why?
I'm a huge music fan. I was at home having one of those days browsing through music and I came across the song Yes that he and Bernard Butler released in ‘95. I remember listening to it over and over again. I thought: “Who is this guy? He's so cool.” This was the height of Britpop, and here was this visibly gay Black guy doing his thing. It was just so refreshing. David is extraordinary in the way he presents himself to the world – very suited, confident, enchanting. I aspire to that.
I think there's something to be said as well about the fact that he didn't make a big deal out of his sexuality, he just was who he was; an artist. Actually, I did a panel after It’s A Sin for The Guardian and [the activist] Marc Thompson said to me, “I was with David the other day and he said, ‘the way Roscoe is dressed reminds me of me when I was living in London in the 80s and early 90s’.” It wasn’t deliberate, I wasn’t drawing on him for the character, but I thought it was lovely for David to have seen a little bit of himself, even aesthetically. That was a really nice, full-circle moment for me.
It’s Pride Month – do you do anything to celebrate?
For me, I think it's more just a matter of just engaging and having time to think. You look around and Pride is so prevalent in its celebration on social media, I think it just forces us to think about who we are. A time to think about how much I've come on in the past few years in terms of embracing who I am.
When you auditioned and got the role for Roscoe, were you thinking “this is going to be important, political” or were you thinking of it as any other role?
I definitely knew that it was going to be a thing that people were going to get into, because it was Russell T. Davies, and my experience of his work was that his shows were always big cultural events – staple moments in TV. I had so many feelings about it. I was nervous and excited. And as we heard about the people involved, like Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris, I was like, “Oh, my God, this is epic.” But at the same time, you can't get swept up in all of that, because you want to be able to go in and do the job.
I also knew it was going to mean a lot to people because you're speaking about a very specific moment in time that hadn't really been touched on in television before. That’s the payoff – that it has meant so much to people, the conversations that it roused. People's engagement with the subject matter, in general, is completely astounding. Russell was surprised by that as well. I remember a couple of weeks into the show being out, Russell texted us: “Are you guys OK? Because I've never experienced anything like this in my life.” He was a bit concerned – good concerned – because it was just unprecedented.
In terms of LGBTQ+ representation in Britain, what do you think still needs to change?
Personally, thinking of television or film, I guess what I would be aspiring to is for our experiences not to get sidelined as niche, or for people to think “We can only have X amount of this because people are going to get bored.” I want commissioners to constantly be excited about the experiences that we have to offer, because I think a lot of them think an LGBTQ+ story is going to be offering the same thing every time.
Hopefully, It’s A Sin really shows there are appetites for those stories.
I think so, but you could have said the same about Queer As Folk which was in the 90s. Then even still, in 2016 or 2017 when Russell was trying to get It’s A Sin commissioned, it was so hard for him to do that. So I worry that sometimes things swell, then pull back again. I want it to be constant, not just a moment!
If people reading this did one thing to help the LGBTQ+ community this Pride Month, what would it be? What’s one thing we can all do to be a better ally?
Language is really important. For trans, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people, language is like a safety net; it enables them to express themselves. Respecting the language that people want others to use – like pronouns and chosen names – is really an easy thing to do. It doesn't cost us anything. We just have to readjust a little thing in our mind before we speak, which is nothing in comparison to what some trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people go through today.
What's the most important thing that being queer has taught you?
I think if anything, being queer has just taught me to be honest about who I am and everything that makes me, me… Because being gay isn’t just my sexual preference, it’s the things that that I like, that make me laugh, the music I love. Being queer has allowed me to celebrate all of that more openly, and feel more comfortable with who I am.
See All Stories: