The New Faces of Pride: Ryan Jamaal Swain on Feeling Reflected by Media for the First Time and More

Exclusive! Read Pose star Ryan Jamaal Swain's take on Pride in 2020.

By Billy Nilles Jun 27, 2020 7:00 AMTags
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With coronavirus making large-scale festivals a public health hazard and widespread protests forcing the nation into a reckoning on racial inequality, this Pride season is one unlike any other. And yet, the spirit of a movement itself born out of a protest lives on. As the month of June comes to a close and International Pride Day celebrations turn virtual, E! News has asked some of Hollywood's newest generation of LGBTQ stars to share what Pride means to them in 2020.

Welcome to The New Faces of Pride.

When Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals were putting together their historic cast for FX's Pose, Ryan Jamaal Swain was among the many newcomers given starring roles and offered a chance to change not only their lives, but the lives of people watching and feeling represented for the first time.

For the past two seasons as sensitive and sensationally talented dancer Damon on the series, set in the late '80s/early '90s world of NYC's ballroom culture, the queer-identifying actor has broken our hearts and taken our breath away. And though the wait for season three will be a bit longer than usual thanks to COVID-19, we can't wait to see where he takes us next.

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Here, Swain joins E! News' week-long New Faces of Pride celebration, offering his take on the state of things in this most unusual year.

Getty Images; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration

As we find ourselves in a Pride season unlike any other, with the country battling a pandemic while rising up to tackle the systemic oppression that's plagued Black Americans for decades, how has your personal definition of Pride changed or shifted this year?

It hasn't. I think that's what is so gratifying for me. My entrance into this celebration of my community is that I've always understood it to be an act of service and a call to action. I think what has happened this year is, by far, a cocktail of immense proportions. You have a virus that is sweeping through the world whilst also awakening to an oppressive system that is not only felt here in the USA, but also all over the world when we think of the globe's relationship with black and brown bodies. So I think my personal definition has always been, since I am a research buff, a call to action, an activation around the work that was laid out before I was even conceived, each and every day. And to carry the baton to the next checkpoint. And I hope everyone—from politicians, essential workers, and artists—understand that this cocktail of immensity is the best drink and check-in we could have ever had. 

How do you explain the importance intersectionality to family, friend or fans who support Black Lives Matter, but routinely leave Black trans people like Tony McDade, Nina Pop and Iyanna Dior out of the conversation?

You cannot be for Black lives if you aren't for all Black lives. Simple. You are a part of the problem if you have found within your own community a sort of caste system. It just shows everyone how powerfully oppressive and sometimes successful the act of white supremacy has been on black and brown bodies. If you are engaging in those type of antics, you are choosing the side of the oppressor. Don't be stupid.

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What queer media, be it books, music or film/TV, have you found yourself turning to this year to buoy you through the uncertainty? Why?

Always have I been a child of [James] Baldwin, [Audre] Lorde, [Federico García] Lorca, Edmund White—whom I hope makes A Boy's Own Story into a movie for me, please!!—and Langston Hughes.

Can you remember the first time you saw yourself reflected in entertainment in a way that filled you with pride? If so, what was it? And if you're still waiting, what is it that you're hoping to see?

I think we were having a conversation around the years of 2017 and '18 when I was able to see the nuance and specificity of films like Call Me by Your Name and Moonlight. Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash. But I think for me I have been turning to a lot of international cinema to see myself, strangely, like that of Renoir, Rossellini, and Besson. But also I am very excited about the content I am creating from my own voice and experiences, I think that will provide a conduit for deep spiritual healing for a lot of people because it has already done that for me.

Macall Polay/FX

You finally get to meet your queer hero. Who are they? And after "Thank you" and "I love you," what the next thing you tell them?

There are too many to name but I will simply say thank you for the incredible power you have shown me and exhibited for me. To choose your truth over your safety every day is an act of revolution and incredible magic. I am just thankful to be in communication with all of you on this plane and beyond. Asé and thank you.

You are given the keys to your industry. What's the first thing you do to make it a more inclusive environment for everyone?

Hire and create opportunity for more black and brown people. It is not enough to throw your money at us. The very systems you are experts on need to have us in mind and also reflect us. So I would continue to create opportunity for black and brown individuals to be the stewards of their own narratives and not being commissioned to occupy their voice through a non-Black lens.

What is your message to future generations of queer people, coming of age right now? How do you want to instill hope in them?

Read. Listen to understand and not to respond. Continue to research who is "in your lane" and how you can "shop and morph" all these types of experiences for the betterment of humankind. Peace and I cannot wait to see you. Let's do this thing. 

For more from The New Faces of Pride, check out responses from Jaida Essence Hall, Theo Germaine, Rahne Jones and Nicole Maines—and be sure to return every day through the end of June for more!