Eric star says Netflix series would’ve made him feel ‘seen’ as a Black queer teen

McKinley Belcher III believes his queer character in new Netflix mini-series Eric can have a “healing” power for a queer audience.

Eric is led by The Imitation Game and Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch as Vincent, a puppeteer, lousy husband and volatile father, who slowly loses his grip on reality after his young son goes missing.

While Vincent tries to track down the boy, with the help of an imaginary puppet called Eric, it’s Michael Ledroit, a queer, Black detective, who has the task of trying to solve the case.

In addition to the missing child at the centre of the storyline, Eric manages to touch on New York’s homelessness crisis, addiction and the racism and homophobia that was rife in the city – and within the NYPD – as the 80s Aids epidemic wreaked havoc on the queer community.

Although Ledroit’s main role is the case, the character also has to keep his sexuality a secret, care for his Aids-stricken partner William, and grapple with working within a discriminatory system.

“We’re sitting in the 80s, in the middle of the Aids epidemic, there’s a lot of fear and social stigma attached to what it is to be queer,” McKinley, who appeared in a historic all-African-American-cast production of Death of a Salesman on Broadway, tells PinkNews.

“We watch Ledroit manage both this very real and human thing at home, where he’s mourning someone before they’re even gone, because William is deteriorating. But we’re also watching him manage a life in which he has to compartmentalise, in that it is only safe for him to fully engage those feelings and thoughts when at home.”

When Ledroit leaves the safety of his home, “he’s confronted with a much more hostile world – on top of his blackness”, the Mapplethorpe star adds.

A poster for Netflix's Eric featuring McKinley Belcher III.
McKinley Belcher III in Netflix’s Eric. (Netflix)

Ledroit has to navigate loss and loneliness while enduring the mounting pressure of the case, and the increasing scrutiny of his colleagues, the family involved, and the world’s press.

“Over the course of six episodes, we’re watching a Black queer man learn to fully accept and love himself, and that’s when he’s fully able to step into his power and be the change that he wants to see in the world,” Belcher believes.

McKinley Belcher III says Netflix’s Eric has personal resonance as a ‘Black queen man’

Making a show where a Black queer man endures struggle, but somehow comes out the other side, was one reason Belcher wanted to take the part.

“I know as a Black queer man, if I saw this show when I was in my teens, I would have felt seen in a way.

“It would have been healing in a way to watch someone go on a journey where, by the end, they land in a more hopeful place, of not necessarily being a victim, but a person who is capable of embracing themself and saying: ‘I am OK with myself. I love myself’.”

Eric star McKinley belcher III.
Queer actor McKinley Belcher III plays gay detective Michael Ledroit in new Netflix series Eric. (Getty)

Belcher, who is married to artist Blake Fox, says he can see himself in Ledroit, particularly in terms of the self-acceptance journey he has to go through.

“I think he’s an empath at heart. That’s the thing that resonates with me. I don’t think as an actor I would be able to do my work to the fullness of my ability if I was hiding, so I have my own personal journey of this is who I am, and I’m OK with who I am, and I’m OK with sharing who I am [with] the world. That’s freeing in a way.

“It’s also a revolutionary act in a way, especially when you live in a world where, in some spaces, people will treat you in a way or suggest subversively that who you are is not OK.”

Eric is streaming on Netflix from Thursday (30 May).

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