Yesterday after my fiance and I got back from his birthday trip, I learned the news of Nelsan Ellis’s passing. If you’re not familiar with the actor, he was best known for his portrayal of Lafayette Reynolds in the series True Blood (and True Blood was the only work of his I am familiar with). I am not one to be personally effected by celebrity deaths, but his death has brought me to a point where I find myself reflecting on Lafayette and why he was so important not only to the TB universe, but for queer, POC representation in general.
In my last post, I covered queer representations in horror and looking back I am really sad and frustrated to see that not only were all my selections were of white women, but that I left out one of my personal favorite characters, Lafayette, whose story and character is so rich (something that is not super common with queer POC in horror) that I feel ashamed that I left him off that list. But this is not the place for me to lament about my super homogenous choices when highlighting the best queer representation, this is about Lafayette.
It’s hard to know where to even start with a character as complex as Lafayette; he’s so many things to so many people. He’s unapologetically queer in a small southern town. He’s also Black and endures all kinds of abuse from the townsfolk but never let’s his voice (or style) be muted by the ignorance that surrounds him and is never afraid to command respect for himself when he can. What I also really appreciate about him is that he would never judge another marginalized person for being more quiet about the things other don’t understand about them, whether it be race, gender, or the ability to read minds; he understands that the path he’s chosen is his own. Despite the fact that he is later reveled to be a medium, he never crosses the line into the magical negro role ; every time some white person wants to drag him into some shit, he brings a heavy dose of skepticism and tries to avoid getting involved if he can. At the same time he’s a person who cares deeply about his friends, family and partner and puts himself at risk when he needs to for them (but if there’s a way to help without endangering his own safety, he’s doing it whether people like it or not). EDIT TO ADD: here’s a quote that really exemplifies Lala’s rejection of the “helping” role so many POC are placed in- ““Hookah I ain’t in the helping business no more. I’m in the fuck off while I smoke a blunt business, and business is about to pick way the fuck up.”
He is a drug dealer and sex worker for a short time, his way of surviving capitalism, racism, and homophobia despite what people in Bon Temps think (because he stopped giving fucks about what others think a long time ago). Still, he is not defined by these occupations as so many in Hollywood are; as he tells Pam after being kidnapped by vampires “Oh, don’t get it twisted honeycone. I’m a survivor first, capitalist second and a whole bunch of shit after that. But a hooker dead last.” He’s smart and knows how to make his way and he WILL call your ass out when you’re being a hypocrite (remember when he showed up at the homophobic senator’s meet-and-greet to remind the good senator about the time he paid Lafayette for sex? GOLD).
I loved that True Blood didn’t ignore his queerness or his Blackness and still lets him be a fully realized, three dimensional character who is not sexless or a-romantic, as is the fate of many queer characters in TV and film. We get to see him evolve over time; he confronts his relationship with his mother; his partner, Jesus, dies and he has a realistic grief response; he has to make an impossible choice about whether or not to turn his cousin (who has a very complicated and tumultuous relationship with vampires) into a vampire to save her life. He never stops adapting to his surroundings and his reactions are always realistic and evoke. emotional investment from the audience.
And of course none of what made Lafayette special and amazing would have been possible without Ellis. He truly did well by Lafayette and his talents will be missed. I leave you all with the clip of Lafayette kicking the asses of some disrespectful rednecks, because Lafayette will not be disrespected.
EDIT: I’ve been coming across some quotes in the last few days and here are some of my favorite of Lafayette nuggets of knowledge:
“Oh Damn, white folks is just all fucked up.”
“It ain’t possible to live unless you crossin’ somebody’s lines.”
“Every man, either gay, straight, or George motherfucking Bush, is terrified of the pussy.”
“Don’t blame the Ferrari just cause your ass can’t drive.”