Kadiff Kirwan wants the Black queer experience ‘front and centre’ on screens: ‘Not the best friend, not the side piece’

Actor Kadiff Kirwan dressed in a tuxedo stands next to actor and writer Michaela Coel who is wearing a black jacket

Actor Kadiff Kirwan has starred in some of the most acclaimed TV shows in recent years, from I May Destroy You to Fleabag, Chewing Gum to This Is Going to Hurt.

Most recently though, you’ll find him on the big screen, playing Nigel in the Harry Styles-led My Policeman.

While the final cut wasn’t entirely what he’d hoped, Kirwan, who is openly gay, is grateful for the opportunity to take part in an inherently queer story.

“The film I’m really proud of, that I got to be a part of [it], but not all of my stuff was kept. You know, in a queer film getting to play a queer character and identifying as such, with a queer director, queer execs – it was just the most wonderful experience filming that,” he tells PinkNews.

“It’s really important for me to be a part of stories like that. Because I always find that in the telling of queer stories, oftentimes the Black experience is negated or it is erased. To have films and projects and TV shows that embrace that, I mean, sign me up.”

Kirwan’s current projects also include the second season of Apple TV’s spy thriller Slow Horses, and alongside Simon Bird in Channel 4’s 2023 sitcom Everyone Else Burns, about a religious sect in Manchester. Meanwhile, he is also working on writing his own TV show and is trying to put the Black queer experience “front and centre”.

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Kadiff Kirwan
Kadiff Kirwan is currently writing the script for a new “queer-centred” show. (Getty/David M. Benett)

“I had a script commission from BBC Studios which I’m currently working on, my own show, and it is a queer story,” he tells PinkNews.

“It’s a new spin on what it is to parent in the current climate. I can’t share much of what the actual story is, but me talking about wanting to tell specific [queer] stories, I’m absolutely getting to do it right now with my own words.

“It’s completely queer-centred… it’s definitely in technicolour with that rainbow flag, trust me.

It’s because of Kirwan’s desire to see more Black LGBTQ+ representation that he was so thrilled to see his best friend and frequent collaborator, Michaela Coel, take on the role of Aneka in Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever. Last month, he attended the film’s premiere with Coel, taking her mum along as his “date”. 

“The fact that Wakanda Forever decided to put a character that was central and queer in the narrative was just something I was so excited about,” he says.

“[Michaela] was just saying that the visibility of what that represents, especially for Black people, and for the continent of Africa… the fact she’s playing a queer female character and the film is going to be seen in Ghana, where it’s still illegal to be queer, was really important.

While the film’s queer plot isn’t quite as explicit as fans had hoped, Kadiff Kirwan hails Coel for trying to champion the LGBTQ+ community in all she does.

“She’s just my sister, you know. She’s one of my best friends and in taking the role, she wanted to do it for friends like myself and other friends who are queer. I mean she’s the definition of what it is to be an ally,” he says.

“I’m just incredibly proud of her.

Kadiff Kirwan and Michaela Coel
Kadiff Kirwan says Michaela Coel wanted to do Wakanda Forever for her queer friends. (Getty/Karwai Tang)

While Kirwan is now a champion for queer representation, he initially struggled with coming out, which led to him “lashing out” at school and getting suspended – twice.

“I came from quite a religious background; both my parents were religious. I was going to church every Saturday… all the things that I was feeling inside me, what they were telling me in church was that it was all wrong.”

Taking up drama lessons at school provided him with an avenue to express himself.

“It definitely gave me more confidence to follow my own train of thought, as opposed to something that [I] was being told that I should be,” he says.

Eventually, both my parents came round, after quite a difficult sort of coming out period.

Sadly, Kirwan lost both of his parents within the last 18 months; his dad passed away from COVID-19 last year, and his mum died four months ago after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She died on the last day of filming for his current project Everyone Else Burns, and Coel flew home from the US to support Kirwan at her funeral. 

“Losing both my parents in the last 18 months has been a lot. But one thing I’m extremely grateful for is that both my parents passed away knowing exactly who I was. And they embraced that, and they celebrated that, and they supported that. It’s something that not a lot of people get in their lifetime.

“That support that they gave me and stuff, it’s definitely influencing the story that I’m writing, because it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to the queer narrative,” he adds.

Writing that story will keep him busy in the coming months, but considering his impressive filmography thus far, it’s more than likely that he’ll remain a regular on our TV screens next year.

“If other things do come up, I want to make sure that the Black queer narrative is at the front and centre,” he says.

Not the best friend, not the sidepiece, none of that. Front and centre and ready for it.

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