Queering TV

Richard Pryor was queer and fans demand his biopic series prove it

A Richard Pryor series is underway, but will it highlight the comedian’s queerness?

In 2020, Black-ish creator Kenya Harris announced that he would be bringing acclaimed comedian Richard Pryor’s story to TV. Harris stopped by VarietyStudio at Sundance to dish some more on the forthcoming project.

“It’s a 10-part limited biographical series that takes a look from cradle to grave,” Barris said for VarietyStudio. “From his earliest upbringing — he grew up in a ho house, or a house of ill repute — and became, at one point, the biggest star in the world.”

Harris gushingly called the project his “baby” and Pryor a “comedy god” before reflecting on Pryor’s legacy.

“A super flawed guy, but who everything, to this day, the comedy that we remember — even including [Dave] Chappelle — is derivative of what he started,” Barris said. “That honest, reflecting, observational look at what the world is and the differences between us that actually make us more similar than we are apart. I think telling his story and letting people see things that they didn’t know about him is something that I’m super excited to bring to life.”

While Pryor was one of the top entertainers of ’70s and ’80s, lauded for his character-driven storytelling, observational style, and situational humor, his career was also marred by his challenges with substance abuse, domestic violence, and self-harm. Yet he was one of the highest paid Black actors of his time, scoring multiple awards, including several Grammy Awards for his comedy albums and shared Emmy Award with actress-comedian Lily Tomlin.

But that’s not the only thing Pryor and out lesbian Tomlin shared, as Pryor was also queer.

In 2018, famed musician and producer Quincy Jones told Vulture in an interview that Pryor allegedly slept with Oscar winner Marlon Brando. His widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor, confirmed the Brando-Pryor hookup to TMZ in 2018, further stating that his fluid sexuality wasn’t a secret and that he wrote about his queer experiences in his diary.

While both Pryor and Brando’s children have refuted the alleged tryst, both Pryor and Brando have openly discussed their individual gay experiences. Brando disclosed his homosexual experiences to a journalist in 1976, while Pryor chose to sneak his queer experiences into his standup, wrote about them in his 1995 autobiography, Pryor Convictions, and had them confirmed in Scott Saul’s 2014 biography Becoming Richard Pryor.

So with Barris’ Pryor series in development, fans are wary about the project due, criticizing Barris for perpetuating colorism in his work. However, since he’s making the series, fans are calling for comedians Marlon Wayans or Mike Epps to take on the role.

But they’re also calling for his “Marlon Brando” era to appear and to highlight Pryor’s sexual fluidity.

The series is still in development, but fans won’t stop calling for Pryor’s queerness to be front and center on their TVs. The ball is in Barris’ court.

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