Billy Dee Williams, best known for her role as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars franchise, recently discussed his identity as a gender-fluid person in an interview with Esquire. “And you see, I say ‘himself’ and ‘herself,’ because I also see myself as feminine as well as masculine. I’m a very soft person. I’m not afraid to show that side of myself,” she explained to journalist Matt Miller.
Credited as an inspiration by the likes of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Jamie Foxx, Williams continues to pave the way for representation on the screen and refuses to settle for two-dimensional, tokenizing representation. Career examples such as Williams’ role as Lando in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, which marked the inclusion of a complex, nuanced black character in a genre that was—and remains—notoriously white, demonstrate his role in challenging the “standard” of Hollywood.
Then there’s also his role as Gale Sayers in the 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song, a film that, in Williams’ words, “Was a love story, really. Between two guys. Without sex. It ended up being a kind of breakthrough in terms of racial division,” he told Esquire. “The Rock calls me the OG,” he added. “What I presented on that screen, people didn’t expect to see. And I deliberately presented something that nobody had experienced before: a romantic, brown-skinned boy.”
The social importance of gender diversity and representation, especially for people of color, cannot be understated. Already, gender-diverse people are underrepresented in media, and the same can be said about racial diversity. The number of actors who identify as both are few, doing a disservice to the gender- and racially diverse folx who fight for visibility daily. And the fact that Williams has embraced her gender fluidity openly at the age of 82 shows that it’s never too late to come out.
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