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Colman Domingo: The first Black gay movie star

Colman Domingo: The first Black gay movie star

Colman Domingo: The first Black gay movie star
Sam Waxman

With Rustin, Colman Domingo — Out's January/February cover star — is poised to make Oscars history. But as a leading man, he's already changing Hollywood.

Colman Domingo thinks he’s just a regular guy. Pay no attention to the fancy clothes he might wear on red carpets — “This is all drag,” he says — or the chauffeured vehicles he may step out of. Never mind the Emmy he won in 2022 for a deeply compassionate role opposite Zendaya in Max’s Euphoria, or the Tony nomination he received in 2010 for his supporting performance in the historical musical The Scottsboro Boys. “On an ordinary day, I think I’m pretty ordinary,” he proclaims.

“Catch me at home in my Carhartt coveralls going to Home Depot, getting some plants, and looking at power tools,” he says, describing an average day. “I’m in the garden, listening to some music in the afternoon — some jazz or something — waiting for my husband to come home from his class. Maybe I’ll light a fire. Maybe have some friends over. But I’m not out running, constantly just being fabulous.”

Sam Waxman

SIMKHAI Tyson Black Blazer, Sleek Fit Atticus Black Pant; CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN Chambelimoc Black Calf Leather and Piercing Loafer; DAVID YURMAN Sterling Silver Chevron Band Ring, Sterling Silver Deco Cigar Band Ring; Sterling Silver Streamline Pinky Ring; SUBJECT’S OWN Bracelets and Other Rings

There’s little reason to not believe Domingo, but as we sit down for an early dinner in West Hollywood on a recent evening — in the midst of the promotional tour and award season campaigns for two films in which he stars: Netflix’s Rustin, about an unsung Black gay civil rights hero, and the movie musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple — there is nothing regular about him. Even beyond the designer fashions he dons, a certain je ne sais quoi oozes from his pores; it’s the stuff trailblazers and household names are made of.

Behold, I think, the blossoming of, perhaps, one of our first Black openly gay movie stars. Finally.

The range of Domingo’s latest roles is evidence of such an unfolding. In the George C. Wolfe-directed Rustin, he plays Bayard Rustin, the pioneering organizer behind the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared, “I have a dream.” Detailing the immense barriers the West Chester, Pennsylvania-born activist overcame to make history — particularly as an openly gay Black man at a time when being queer was especially criminalized — the movie rescues Rustin’s importance and impact from the sidelines and footnotes. Domingo’s performance is a commanding character study — and career-defining. Though his over 30-year career in entertainment has been peppered with standout supporting roles in film and television — from the series Fear The Walking Dead and Lucifer to movies like Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk, Janicza Bravo’s Zola, and Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Rustin is his first time as lead.

And in The Color Purple, Domingo plays Mister, a very different kind of character, as he is the canonical narrative’s main antagonist. The abusive husband of Celie (played by season 3 American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino), he’s the embodiment of toxic masculinity and generational trauma. And while the role was made famous by Danny Glover in the 1985 Steven Spielberg-directed The Color Purple (Whoopi Goldberg played Celie in that version), Domingo puts his own notable spin on the complex character. Together, Rustin and The Color Purple made Domingo worthy of a rare double nomination for leading and supporting roles during this single awards season. [Editor's update: Domingo received a Best Actor Oscar nomination Tuesday from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his Rustin performance.]

“And it wasn’t even designed that way,” he says, “though it is something I’ve just been trying to do my entire career, which is I need you to see me the way I see myself. I need you to see me without limitation. I want you to see me as an artist, as a thinker, as a creator.”

“In the middle [of both of these characters] is me who’s just constantly trying to explore Black men and how we operate, how we love, whether there’s redemption or not. There’s a human quality that I’m trying to explore in all these different kinds of people, whether they’re a pimp or a bandleader. I always want to be useful [to the narrative or story] and then let’s see how I can tell my story [through it].”

Sam Waxman

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To Rustin screenwriter Julian Breece (a credit he shares with Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for writing Milk), Domingo’s efforts to be of service to the work made him the best talent to elevate an ancestor.

“Bayard’s legacy has been so unjustly buried, and it’s so rare that you have the perfect character and the absolute perfect ambassador for it,” he says. “That’s why it is just a dream to have Colman be able to not just be a masterful actor but also be the kind of person who can really carry that kind of legacy.”

Domingo also carries the Black queer legacy of The Color Purple, the source text of which is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about, in part, sapphic desire. He is the only out queer person in the main cast.

“There is a central queerness to The Color Purple that needed to be unearthed in perhaps ways that weren’t already or fully explored in past generations [of the story],” says Blitz Bazawule, the 2023 film’s director. “So Colman’s presence — as a person, not an actor — was helpful in us just being able to navigate what that means and the representation that was needed in our version.”

“But you also can’t separate the artistry from the person,” he continues. “Colman feels deeply, and I don’t know if it’s attributed to his sexual orientation or maybe it’s just his nature of being able to process [things differently], but I felt that constantly he was also interrogating what masculinity means. That’s why I think he’s so good in the film because he could see it from the outside looking in and interrogate that dark masculinity that is the plague of our principal character.”

Sam Waxman

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The difference between an actor who stars in movies and a movie star is significant though somewhat subjective. Movie stars are magnetic in public, sure to enliven a room by their very presence. They’re usually hella talented, deserving of a place in the Mount Rushmore of the craft. There’s also an element of movie stardom that conveys bankability due to mainstream visibility. These already fungible lines are even more precarious for Black folks and queer folks — and more so for those at the intersection of Blackness and queerness, like Domingo, an Afro-Latinx actor of Guatemalan and Belizean descent.

But ultimately, you know a movie star when you see them. And when it comes to Black gay ones, it’s a very small list — if a list exists at all. Domingo, who Reece and Bazawule rank among the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Humphrey Bogart, and Meryl Streep, is likely as close as it gets. That matters.

“I didn’t realize it until a student told me this before,” Domingo shares. He was at the University of Wisconsin and a young person asked him, “Do you know you’re doing something that hasn’t been done, you being exactly who you are, doing the work that you’re doing? Are there many others like you?”

“I had to think about it,” he admits, “and I thought, no. Then I had to figure out why. And I was actually stumped.”

Sam Waxman

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The thought led him to a related reality, which is that many people still don’t know he’s gay — even though he’s been out his entire career and married to his husband, Raúl, since 2014.

“There was never a big coming-out story and a heroic rise to finally being on the cover of Out magazine because of that,” Domingo says. “No shade, but for me, it’s like the people who’ve been in the trenches doing the work and being exactly who they are and authentic, I think we need to amplify them as well.”

“That’s why I feel like I understand Bayard’s story in many ways too, of just putting your head down and doing the work and maybe not getting the shine,” he continues. “And then after a while, you’re not attached to the shine, actually. If it comes, that’s wonderful, but [not having it] is not going to stop me. History will catch up in some way, hopefully.”

Sam Waxman

SIMKHAI Tyson Black Blazer, Sleek Fit Atticus Black Pant; CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN Chambelimoc Black Calf Leather and Piercing Loafer; DAVID YURMAN Sterling Silver Chevron Band Ring, Sterling Silver Deco Cigar Band Ring; Sterling Silver Streamline Pinky Ring; SUBJECT’S OWN Bracelets and Other Rings

Certainly, history is catching up, and the “weird path” Domingo says he forged to get to this point — of his career and his life more broadly — is not going unnoticed by generations of Black queer men especially who are witnessing what is possible through Domingo’s example. As the old adage goes, “to everything there is a season.”

“I do think it’s an incredible time, the idea of seeing an openly queer man on this level, playing these roles,” Domingo adds. “This has taken a long time, but it’s here at the right time. Because for me to be amplified by representing someone like Bayard Rustin and The Color Purple, I feel like I’ve truly earned it. As I’m stepping into the spotlight, so is this incredible hero of mine at the same time. I think that’s beautiful too.”

“It’s paying it forward, paying it backwards, and we’re all doing it together.”

LOUIS VUITTON Green Silk Loungewear DAVID YURMAN Necklace Sam Waxman

LOUIS VUITTON Green Silk Loungewear DAVID YURMAN Necklace

Photographer: Sam Waxman (@wamsaxman)

Photographer’s assistant: Austin Ruffer (@austinyourface)

Photographer’s assistant: Spencer Clark (@thespencerclark)

Cover design: Raine Bascos

Styling directors: Wayman & Micah (@waymanandmicah, @forwardartists)

Stylists’ assistant: Ynes Trabelsi (@yunsienyc)

Tailor: Aynai (

Grooming: Laura Costa using Dior Sauvage (, @exclusiveartists)

Nail tech: Nia Much

Videographer: Austin Nunes (@austinunes)

This cover story is part of Out's January/February issue, which hits newsstands on February 6. Support queer media and subscribe — or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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