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Darryl Stephens was told to stay in the closet while on Noah's Arc

Darryl Stephens was told to stay in the closet while on 'Noah's Arc'

Noah's Arc and star Darryl Stephens
Shutterstock; Courtesy of Logo

The slice-of-life show may have been about Black, queer characters, but no one knew the actor was gay.

Seeing stories about gay Black men onscreen is rare in 2024, but two decades ago, it was unheard of until Noah's Arc premiered.

Despite the show breaking new ground in Hollywood, star Darryl Stephens was advised to stay in the closet if he wanted to stay booked and busy.

The 49-year-old actor was eager to learn how to play the character of the titular Noah, but because there was no Black, queer representation on TV, he had to figure it out as he went along.

"My biggest focus was figuring out who Noah was," he said in a recent interview with Buzzfeed celebrating Black History Month. "I'd never seen a character like him on screen. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to be playing him. If you look at earlier iterations of Noah, [I played] boyish and sex kitten versions of him. By the time we shot the pilot before Logo picked us up, I figured out who he was. But for a long time, I was wondering, 'Who is this guy?'"

Back in 2005, when the show first premiered, Stephens recalled that Noah's Arc creator Patrik-Ian Polk told the cast, "None of us are gonna talk about our sexuality in public," as a way to try and keep their sexualities as being the focus of all of the press coverage for the show.

"[I think it was] because of what [he'd] seen with shows like Queer as Folk, in terms of how much press and attention the straight actors were getting for being [quote unquote] brave enough to play gay characters," he explained. "There was always that fear of if they find out [I'll] never work [again]. What's interesting is that once I came out, I was getting tons of work, and it was all good work."

While working on the show, Stephens also scored roles playing LGBTQ+ characters in the films Boy Culture and Another Gay Movie, but he had still yet to come out publicly. It wasn't until he was asked to take part in PRIDE's sister publication Out's Out100 list that he felt comfortable doing it.

"That's when I embraced the opportunity to talk about it in ways that felt unfettered and uncontrolled," he confided. "I'd been living [out loud in] my daily life for years, though."

As the first TV series to feature a group of Black, queer friends, Noah's Arc made a huge cultural impact — even if it wasn't lauded by critics and audiences when it first came out — and Stephens hopes that his career serves as welcome representation for marginalized groups.

"I hope that my contribution is that I left a generation of Black queer folks more comfortable in their skin than they were before," he said. "There's power in owning who you are. I hope my legacy is that queer folks, Black, brown, and everybody else, feel seen by the work that I've done and that it inspires them to be their full selves. Ultimately, I want us to be as free as we can be."

In case this makes you nostalgic for Noah's Arc, but you've already watched it half a dozen times, fear not because Stephens says a reboot is in the works!

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Ariel Messman-Rucker

Ariel Messman-Rucker is an Oakland-born journalist who now calls the Pacific Northwest her home. When she’s not writing about politics and queer pop culture, she can be found reading, hiking, or talking about horror movies with the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network.

Ariel Messman-Rucker is an Oakland-born journalist who now calls the Pacific Northwest her home. When she’s not writing about politics and queer pop culture, she can be found reading, hiking, or talking about horror movies with the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network.