Chicago native Paris Barclay is a director, producer and writer who has worked on Glee, Smash and Sons of Anarchy and the TV movies Hate and Pedro. The married father of two opened up about being called a "gay-identifying" artist, being an inspiration for all Americans and the importance of a Barbara Jordan biopic.
Windy City Times: In 2004 you spoke at the Black Images On Screen festival in Chicago at Columbia College. You were paraphrased as saying that you plan to retire soon from producing and directing so you can explore the challenges of writing.
Paris Barclay: That is a mischaracterization of what I actually said. What I believe I said was that I wanted to shift the focus to doing more writing, and not just doing producing and directing. In the past nine years I started to do that.
WCT: At that festival you were billed as a "gay-identifying" artist. Do you think that it is important for gay artists to create art that speaks to their sexual orientation?
PB: I think it may be helpful to the world at large but I don't think we should impose any pre-conceptions on what artists who identify as gay do. It would be a little like saying artists who are African-Americans should only do African-American stories and should emphasize that. My feeling has always been that you should tell stories based on your experience and things that move you.
WCT: Do you come back to Chicago regularly?
PB: At least once a year to see my family. My parents are still there, and many of my sisters and brothers are still in the Chicagoland area. Certainly at Christmas time I try to get back to experience the cold. [Laughs]
WCT: There is talk that Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter plans to end the show after the seventh season.
PB: That's the current plan that I've heard. People who watch Sons of Anarchy know it has echoes of Shakespeare's Hamlet and they know a little bit of the plot if they know about the plot machinations of that play. Then they can expect certain things to happen in the course of finishing the Sons of Anarchy story.
WCT: Tell me about directing the music video for LL Cool J's song "Big Ole Butt," and more recently for his song "Take It."
PB: The video for "Big Ole Butt" was the first video where I started a relationship with LL Cool J and that helped to develop my career. I have always stayed in touch with him and we only live a couple of miles away. When he called and said, "Hey, I have a new record and I want you to come and listen to it," I jumped at the chance.
WCT: You won two Emmys for directing episodes of NYPD Blue. In 2012 you and your husband, Christopher Barclay, were awarded a Family Values Award from In the Life Media, given to "individuals whose representation of LGBT families serve as an inspiration for all Americans." Which award is more fulfilling?
PB: Emmys do more for your career, but in terms of putting a message out there that we care about, you can't really top being acknowledged for family values. We adopted our two children from the Los Angeles County foster-care system and we're really proud of that because there are so many kids that are in foster care that don't get adopted. L.A. is one of those places that, as a gay couple or as a gay individual, there is not a barrier based on your sexual orientation.
WCT: Tell me about developing, producing and directing the biopic about lesbian U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.
PB: Whenever I mention Barbara Jordan I'm always stunned that people don't know of her as the first African-American woman in Congress from Texas. She is a heroic larger-than-life figure, who did so much good and was out there, but at the same time she was so quiet and discreet about whom she loved in private. I find it very intriguing and a good foundation for a motion picture.
WCT: And Viola Davis is playing the lead?
PB: Yes. I think she's one of the best actresses in the world. I've seen a few bad movies that Viola Davis has been in, but I've never seen Viola Davis be bad in a movie.
WCT: How progressive has Hollywood's representation of gay characters and Black gay characters been, and what work needs to be done?
PB: I will be one of the people who says more work needs to be done. I'm really proud of the character that Alex Newell plays on Glee, who is an African-American gay man who identifies as a woman. I think Sam on Smash is also a really nice and balanced portrayal of an African-American gay man. I think what we'll see in the next 10 years is just more gay men of different colors involved in relationships and in stories and that being less and less of an issue of conversationjust being more of a fact in life.
Get your Glee fix Thursday nights on Fox, look for the sixth season of Sons of Anarchy to debut this October on FX and watch Smash Saturday nights on NBC. For more info visit www.fox.com/glee/ www.fxnetworks.com/soa/ and www.nbc.com/smash .