Billy Porter claps back at critics of his James Baldwin biopic: ‘Question me at your peril’

On the left, Billy Porter in a green top, glasses and fur jacket. On the right, writer James Baldwin in a tan shirt and white jacket.

Pose star Billy Porter has received a mixed response after announcing that he’s to star in a new biopic about gay writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin.

Now the actor has responded to his critics.

Earlier this month, Porter announced that he’d be fulfilling a life-long career goal of “expanding [Baldwin’s] legacy”.

The American Horror Story actor was also announced as a co-writer of the film’s script, which will be based on the 1994 book, James Baldwin: A Biography

However, some people have suggested that Porter would need to “turn down the camp” to do Baldwin justice, while others felt that the author wouldn’t want his life turned into a film at all.

Addressing the naysayers, Porter stated how little he cared about the opinions of others.

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Speaking on The Tamron Hall Show, the actor said he refused to let his life be judged by “sound bites on social media“.

He added: “First and foremost, the internet has created a space where people think that their opinion matters – it doesn’t.

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Billy Porter with his hair in bantu knots, wearing a white shirt and leather jacket. James Baldwin smiling, wearing a black jacket and black tie.
Billy Porter will play legendary writer and activist James Baldwin (r) in a new biopic. (Getty/Jenkins)

“I am 53 years old and I’ve dedicated my life to my art and my craft. Question me at your peril.

“Call it whatever you want, arrogant… whatever you want. I’ve worked hard for this,” he continued. “I’m going to focus on the work. That’s all I can do. People have been doubting me my whole life. This ain’t nothing new. None of it is new.”

Baldwin has long been an inspiration to Porter. During his acceptance speech at the 2019 Emmys, where he became the first openly gay, Black man to win the award for outstanding lead in a drama (for his role as Pray Tell in Pose), the star referred to the writer’s 1960 essay, They Can’t Turn Back.

“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the Earth as if I had a right to be here,” he said. “I have the right, you have the right. We all have the right.”

During his conversation on the show, Porter expanded on why he felt compelled to take on the biopic.

James Baldwin and his work, and what he represented in the world, everything, he’s one of the first people who I saw who looked like me, who represented me in the fullness: Black, queer and present,” Porter explained. 

Baldwin crafted an expansive career from the 1940s until his death in 1987, writing about his experiences as a Black gay man during the era of racial segregation in the US.

He was renowned for his novels, poetry and essays, as well as his work in theatre.

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His life and work also inspired several films, including the 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro.

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