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actress kiersey clemons sounds off on race and feminism

The American actress joins the conversation on gender narrative and black politics in film.

Hattie Collins

Kiersey Clemons is visiting London for the first time. Today we've brought her to an estate in deepest darkest Tulse Hill — her experience of the capital city so far couldn't be less Hollywood, but the 21-year-old actor is chill. "It all looks like London to me, I love it here," she says, with a smile. Sat on some shabby steps surrounded by bins, her presence is attracting the attention of the locals, who stop to invite her to a party later that night. "What's up babe? What's your name?" they ask with the characteristic confidence of young men from South London. They may not recognize her face yet, but they soon will.

Clemons is on a break in between shooting the new series of Amazon Prime's brilliantly executed series Transparent and finally wrapping up promo duties on Rick Famuyiwa's Sundance-winning Dope. Billed as a "crime-comedy-drama", Dope is in fact a beautifully shot coming-of-age film that offers an alternative perspective on the African-American narrative. It's funny, it's smart, it's thought-provoking and in it, Clemons delivers a scene-stealing debut as Diggy — her impact made all the more impressive given she shares screen time with Chanel Iman, Zoë Kravitz and Rakim 'A$AP Rocky' Mayers. 

"The way that Rick envisioned the character Diggy was how she would have been when he was in high school," she says of her character, who happens to be lesbian, as opposed to "a lesbian character." "I didn't want to make Diggy someone who is trying to prove to people that she is comfortable with who she is. She doesn't try to be a boy, she doesn't deny being a girl, her identity is effortless, really. Normally characters like Diggy are portrayed as struggling with their sexuality or as emotionally abusing themselves. Of course people go through things, but we live in 2015 - it's the most accepting it's ever been," she points out. "People like Diggy exist because they're allowed to exist. That said, certain parts of the world - fuck, certain parts of America - she would maybe get lynched. But, shit, you don't have to be queer to get lynched - you can just be black and American," she adds with a wry rise of her eyebrow. 

Clemons plays Bianca in Transparent, which is about a father of three who comes out as trans in his sixties. Is it choice or coincidence that the actor and singer is featuring in two projects that are actively discussing sexuality, gender and race? "I don't do it on purpose. People tell me I make great choices, but I was just auditioning," she says, with a laugh. "But there are definitely roles I chose not to do. It's been a great way for me to show what I stand for and that I support the LGBTQ community." 

Having rejected a plethora of scripts where she's expected to play the sassy best friend or the eye-rolling roommate, she has instead opted for Seth Rogen's Bad Neighbors 2." I'd rather be working at the mall again than go make a racist or sexist movie for money. In Neighbors I get to be a normal college girl who's black and funny; you rarely get to see funny black girls, who aren't playing ignorant or some other stereotype." Clemons has theater in her sights, maybe an album, more movies. More than that though, she wants to continue to be the anomaly in Hollywood: an actor who has an opinion and isn't afraid to express it. "Entertainment gave me the platform to speak out on certain things, like gender equality and female equality. I think if you have influence you should use it for something greater. I want people to think of me as someone who cares."

Credits


Text Hattie Collins 
Photography Francesca Jane Allen 
Styling Bojana Kozarevic
Hair Nicole Kahlani at The Book Agency using Bumble and bumble
Make-up Danielle Kahlani at the Book Agency using Bobbi Brown
Photographic assistant Naomi Wong
Kiersey wears dress Joseph