Interview: T’Nia Miller

In “T’Nia Miller: ‘I never saw a queer person on TV when I was growing up,’”Alim Kheraj (The Guardian) interviews T’Nia Miller—the British actor of Jamaican heritage, star of Years and Years and The Haunting of Bly Manor—who “reflects on coming out as lesbian to her mum, facing racism at drama school and the progress–or not–of the Black Lives Movement.” Here are excerpts:

When T’Nia Miller first told her mother that she was dating a woman, she explained to her mum that she wasn’t there to see her have sex with men, so this was no different. “It’s just about me having really good friendships and beauty in my life,” she recalls saying. “That was it. We never had more of a conversation than that. If she had any issues, they were hers to deal with, not mine. She knew that. She’s a very educated, very well-read woman. For her, coming to terms with it was easy.”

The east-London born actor is telling me this story over the phone as she walks her dog (she forgot about the interview and her seven-month-old pomeranian, Dilhi, needed his daily steps) because she’s taking part in the #YoungerMe campaign, an initiative by the LGBTQ+ young persons organisation Just Like Us, which asks how LGBTQ+ inclusive education would have helped older queer people when they were in school.

“With my ‘coming out story’, I was very much supported by my family,” she continues, “but there are many children that aren’t. I know as a black actor what it meant to see people like me on the screen, and I think that’s exactly the same when it comes to sexuality and how we identify. That’s why Just Like Us is so important. It helps forge those intergenerational connections.”

Miller says that she had “no exposure, no knowledge, nada” of LGBTQ+ issues growing up. “I’d never seen a queer person on TV and I didn’t know any queer people at all until I got to college. I used to travel from the East End to go to college in Notting Hill and that’s where I met my first queer family, as it were; people who were a little bit different than the social circle I was used to mixing with. My God, it was refreshing.”

In fact, she kept her sexuality hidden until her early 20s. “I have Jamaican heritage. I love reggae music and I used to listen to a lot of bashment as a kid,” she says. “That scene, at the time, didn’t support me being queer. Although such views weren’t present in my family, in the wider society there was a shame shrouded on it, so I sort of denied it and pushed it back.” Ultimately, she ended up marrying a man and having children, “but by the time he started being an arsehole I realised: I have two kids, I’m a little older and I don’t give a shit about social pressure, so I’m going to start dating women. It was really that simple.” [. . .]

Miller is aware of casting directors and agents having “difficult conversations” about inclusion, although she remains cautious about how change is brought about. “If the response is to just stick a load of black people on the screen, then that’s not really doing the job, in my opinion. It has to be behind the camera and in front of camera. It’s not just black people, too. Don’t think that you’ve filled your diversity quota by just sticking a black person in one of those roles. There are so many people to consider and until that happens, we’re not there yet.”

The pandemic hasn’t helped, of course, and Miller says that it’s been hard to gauge whether any of the progress being discussed has actually been implemented. “I think that’s a longer journey,” she says. “Not too long, but I think it’s going to take a while to really find out.”

2020 hasn’t been a washout, though. Career wise, Miller has just returned from Spain where she has been shooting Spanish-Chilean director Alejandro Amenábar’s series La Fortuna, which also stars Stanley Tucci and Clarke Peters, star of The Wire. And Miller believes that without the pandemic, the spotlight on this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests wouldn’t have been so bright. [. . .]

[Above: T’Nia Miller. Photograph by Joseph Sinclair.]

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