'Diarra From Detroit' - Spotlight on Bryan Terrell Clark, aka 'Mr. Tea'

In a media landscape still limited to flat stereotypes of Black men, Mr. Tea and his portrayer emerge as a breath of fresh air.

"I may be gay but I'm still a n—---."

This line defines Diarra From Detroit's Mr. Tea, Diarra Brickland's confidante and colleague in the Detroit public school system. Clark uttered it to show creator Diarra Kilpatrick at a dinner party, and it made its way into the script because it resonated with her. "Sometimes, as marginalized people, we get painted as one thing," she says to Clark in the Episode 1 after-show. 

Clark agrees. "Do not get it twisted, I am very much a man, and just because you know I'm queer, don't disqualify your ass-whuppin'."

Clark is a Baltimore native, the son of a drug dealer and a school teacher. If he looks familiar, it's because he's no stranger to the screen or stage. He's appeared on Empire, Queen Sugar and portrayed legendary producer Terry Lewis in The New Edition Story. You may also have been privileged enough to catch him as "George Washington" in Broadway's hit Hamilton or in his Broadway debut as Marvin Gaye in Motown: The Musical. His resumé runs even longer than that. The Yale School of Drama graduate has a co-writing credit on Mary J. Blige’s "Irreversible" from My Life II and has performed alongside Maxwell, Brandy and Anita Baker, to name a few. 

Of the media that was formative to his identity, he cites Noah’s Arc and The DL Chronicles. "To see representation on the screen of what it meant to be Black and queer was few and far between. These shows were a peek into a community that I would later call family." Years later, those two shows remain a rarity, but are important to black gay men (especially us Gen X-ers) because of their depictions of black men loving other black men.

In Diarra, Episode 2, "The Russian," Diarra and Tea find themselves at an underground club tracking a lead in a case that is twenty-seven years cold. There, Tea has a flirtation with the dj, another black man. For Diarra, the excursion is a moment of self-discovery and catharsis but Tea is right at home. The actor says he didn't really get to be himself until he turned 21 and friends surprised him with a trip to New York. "There was a club called The Warehouse. It was the first time I had been surrounded by so many beautiful sexy men. We had a tiiiime that night!" 

Diarra From Detroit: Diarra's Dangerous Dance in Search of Truth

Having that desire depicted onscreen isn't only representative; it's inspirational in that it doesn't treat love between black men as out of reach. Clark is happily married to costume designer Devrio Simmons.

Depending on your own lived experience, social life and entertainment intake, none of this may be groundbreaking. You could even argue that it doesn't need to be. But Black gay characters aren't often given the opportunity to be as varied as their straight counterparts while being vocal in how they identify.

"I have great mentors and friends in industry, who really trailblazed a way for young black male actors who are queer," he says. "It was really difficult for me initially, because I didn’t see a lot of representation. I saw a lot of more flamboyant representations of queerness, and although we are praised in the community and in the bedroom for being 'masculine', I just don’t feel like I saw a lot of representation on the screen. There are some of us out there, but there's not a lot. So it was really important to me to have the conversation with Diarra and I was super excited when she told me that she really wanted to kind of expand our view of what we see on television in terms of black queer representation." 

Diarra From Detroit airs on BET+ every Thursday.

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