Ok, we admit it. We're completely obsessed with the new hit series P-Valley and the budding onscreen romance between characters Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan) and Lil Murda, played masterfully by J. Alphonse Nicholson.
The stage and film star who was last seen on Broadway earlier this year in A Soldier's Play opens up to TV Guide about his portrayal of the closeted rapper who has fallen for the non-binary Uncle Clifford, whether or not he believes his character is gay, his own sexuality—Nicholson identifies as heterosexual—utilizing his role and the series to spark discussions in the Black community around homophobia and becoming an ally to the LGBTQ Community.
"We've had conversations about it," Nicholson tells TV Guide via phone. "He's still trying to figure it out. He's a mix of emotions. He's a complex and layered guy, and he's really trying to find himself and who he is. I want people to see him as that."
Nicholson, who identifies as heterosexual, says part of his preparation for the part meant looking back on his own upbringing in an all-Black community in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the entrenched, normalized homophobia that led people like Lil' Murda to live in silence, shame, and fear.
"You hear stories about people being 'undercover' or 'DL.' Sometimes homies might have been in prison and may have formed relationships with men and when they get back, they don't know how to be honest about that."
He was initially nervous about taking on the role, he says, but talked it through with his fiancée — and then recognized an opportunity.
"Taking the part I was like, 'How can we mend these relationships? How can I understand Black gay men, all gay people, and be an ally? These conversations need to happen more in the Black community, and we can get to a place where we accept someone for who they are, simply because of who they are. I'm glad it's sparking conversation."
He says he's been encouraged and pleased with most of the reaction he's seen online so far. He says he's less concerned with what negative comments people have made, but there are sometimes comments that make him sit up and take notice, like one he saw recently on Facebook. Nicholson says that he saw a video of a straight-presenting, masculine man covered in tattoos come out, acknowledging how this declaration could've put him at risk of being killed by his peers, including women, in his community. The message was a stark reminder that, although Lil' Murda and Uncle Clifford are fictional people, they're producing tangible results.
"It's very real for [people like the man in the video]," and Lil' Murda too, Nicholson says. Homophobia and violent fear of the unknown put not only the non-binary or trans people at risk of harm but their partners too. "You're afraid of losing your life, losing everything. There's so much people face in this community, and not everybody has the sense of safety to just come out."
As for Lil' Murda's identity, the point is, of course, that it doesn't matter. If one wanted to do the proverbial math on the situation, it might start with the fact that straight men who date trans women are indeed straight since trans women are women, but Uncle Clifford's gender identity is more on the non-binary side than trans woman, which makes Lil Murda's label more complicated to nail down — and ultimately a fruitless exercise that serves nothing. P-Valley would rather we focus on what's much easier to see and understand. "Love is love," Nicholson says. "Any type of intimate feelings between two people can be real. Sometimes people just want to have a good time. It's more common than we think."
P-Valley airs on Sunday's on the STARZ Network at 8/7c.