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Samira Wiley on Portraying Playwright Lorraine Hansberry in 'Equal'

The Emmy-winning actress appears in the HBO Max docuseries about various icons that paved the way for Stonewall and LGBTQ rights.

10/21/2020 5:55:00 PM

'I feel like the stories are so [relevant to] what is happening right now in our country and in our world.” samirawiley EqualMax

The Emmy-winning actress appears in the HBO Max docuseries about various icons that paved the way for Stonewall and LGBTQ rights.

Queer Eyehost Jai Rodriguez appears as José Sarria and Daytime Emmy nominee Scott Turner Schofield embodies Craig Rodwell. “The queer community is so diverse. That’s why we have so many letters,” Wiley says, reflecting on the many names, especially those that are trans or people of color, featured in the series. “It encompasses so many different people and all of our stories are our own, but also it’s a community of stories.” What makes

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Equalstand out, she adds, is “being able to see how each story is connected to each other.”HBO MaxFor Wiley, that’s seeing how Hansberry’s short life included being the first Black female author to have a play performed on Broadway and becoming a radical voice within the civil rights movement alongside Bayard Rustin (Keiynan Lonsdale), who served as mentor and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Equalshows how the two activists became friends and helped each other live freely behind closed doors.“I am ashamed to say that I wasn’t as familiar with this part of her, really, at all,” Wiley says, adding it’s “because I don’t think that her story has really been told in this kind of way, that is accessible to so many people.” By portraying Hansberry, even if for a brief time, Wiley felt like she was being welcomed into a special group of people that knew who she was. “I didn’t really know as much as I know now. And I just am so happy that I do,” she says. 

As for the opportunity to see Hansberry’s story unfold alongside Rustin’s as well as the many other overlooked or forgotten icons featured inEqual, Wiley says not only a “gift for me, but also such an amazing gift to give our audience.” 

When it came to stepping into the playwright’s shoes, Wiley says there was just so much “to chew on there.” One thing the actress really picked up on was the way Hansberry spoke. “She’s so intent with her language, but also she doesn't speak loudly. But her words are so loud in and of themselves that it's almost like she doesn't even necessarily need the volume because the volume is in the words themselves.”

Wiley’s biggest takeaway was that she felt Hansberry “was unapologetically herself. Even though the world may not have been ready for all of her.”  Read more: Entertainment Tonight »

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