Top 15 Black Actresses Over 50 Who I Think Should Play Gay (Again)

Pictures of the Autostraddle senior editor team are collaged in colors of cobalt and orange with the words "Happy Birthday Autostraddle" and the number 15 strewed all over for Autostraddle's 15th birthday

Autostraddle is turning 15 this week! To celebrate, we’re publishing chaotic and gay Top 15 Lists all week long.

When we started planning Autostraddle’s 15th birthday, I took on coordinating this fun little list series that you are right this moment reading! And here is what I asked our team members to come up with:

“You’ll want to think of something that is niche and specific to your own personal interests, something that you and only you can confidentially and expertly name a top 15 of. It can be about literally any subject matter under the sun!”

Obviously I put us on a path that was only ever going to lead me here. The brand is too strong. And thus, may I present to you my magnum opus, a career pinnacle, my Mount Rushmore: Top 15 Black Actresses Over 50 Who I Think Should Play Gay (Again)

No, please!!! Stop!!!! The standing ovation is unnecessary! You’re welcome.

15. Jennifer Beals (age 60)

 Actress Jennifer Beals visits Build Series to discuss "Taken" & "Before I Fall" at Build Studio on February 28, 2017 in New York City.
I want her to be that satisfied and happy with me, you know? (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)

Notably Played Gay: The L Word, The L Word: Generation Q

Did I put Jennifer Beals this low purely to make a joke about Bette Porter being a bottom?

14. Queen Latifah (age 53)

US rapper Queen Latifah arrives to attend the annual amfAR Cinema Against AIDS Cannes Gala at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d'Antibes, southern France, on the sidelines of the 76th Cannes Film Festival, on May 25, 2023. (Photo by Stefano Rellandini / AFP)
Could look at me like that any time. (Photo by STEFANO RELLANDINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Notably Played Gay: Set It Off, Bessie, Ryan Murphy’s Janet Mock’s Hollywood

Queen Latifah should be ranked higher (and to be clear, she will always be ranked higher in my heart) but I had to be honest with myself: this is a wish list. Queen Latifah playing gay again in our lifetimes, and doing it well, is more of an eventuality. It’s only matter of time.

13. Regina King (age 53)

Actress Regina King of the TNT show "Southland" speaks onstage during a VIP screening at the TNT: 2011 Essence Festival - Day 2 on July 2, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 21417_002_1296.JPG
Arms. Smile. Laughter. ARMS. (Photo by Skip Bolen/WireImage)

I don’t know what to tell you!!!! Have you seen her arms?? Those arms deserve to be in a white t-shirt with the arm holes cut out to turn it into a tank top, drinking a bud light at a dyke bar Shane Mccutcheon-style, in an indie thriller directed by Dee Reese.

12. Halle Berry (age 57)

Actress Halle Berry arrives at Warner Bros. Pictures' "Cloud Atlas" premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on October 24, 2012 in Hollywood, California.
The best part is I don’t even have to make a thirst joke. It’s literally Halle Berry. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Notably Played Gay: Bruised

I recently rewatched Halle Berry’s queer MMA drama Bruised for a different writing assignment about its outstanding sex scene. I was reminded that though Bruised is far from a perfect movie (no offense to Halle Berry, who is also the film’s director), Halle Berry will have chemistry with anyone you put her against on screen. So let’s continue to push the boundaries of that theory.

11. Laverne Cox (age 51)

Actress Laverne Cox attends the 2016 Fragrance Foundation Awards presented by Hearst Magazines on June 7, 2016 in New York City.
That wind tossed hair!?! I’m just gonna lay down in the street to be run over by a taxi. It’s fine. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images Fragrance Foundation)

Notably Played Gay: Orange Is the New Black

Laverne Cox is talented. Laverne Cox is hot. No one gives Laverne Cox enough work. I think we can all come to the conclusion that if we just…

10. Angela Bassett (age 65)

Angela Bassett attends the Los Angeles Philharmonic Homecoming Concert & Gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall on October 09, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Mother. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic )

Notably Played Gay: American Horror Story (Hotel)

It’s time to return Angela Bassett to her roots, playing a hot divorcee on the precipice of her next chapter!!

Imagine Angela Bassett in a Netflix original about a wealthy late in life lesbian in Nappa Valley, fresh off her divorce from her husband, her kids away at college, and while discovering herself she falls in love with the quiet butch florist who was hired for a fancy wine event at her vineyard. There’s a first kiss on the balcony at sunset scene, there’s a baby’s first gay bar scene, there’s a coming out to her kids scene, there’s a fight in the kitchen that leads to incredibly hot make up sex. Did I just combine like three or four different movie and television tropes into one plot? Yes. Yes, I did.

But tell me you wouldn’t watch that shit!! Netflix RUN ME MY CHECK!!!

9. Tracee Ellis Ross (age 51)

Tracee Ellis Ross attends the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California.
To be a diamond necklace wrapped around her neck. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Ok.. so… Listen… Like many actors on this list, Tracee Ellis Ross has never played gay before (that I know of)… and yet, I just believe on a deeply spiritual, in my gut, the stars and oceans and moons all align and may peace be found in all of our hearts, top card of the tarot deck, type-of-level that she just be would be soooo good at it, you know?

8. Gabrielle Union (age 51)

 Gabrielle Union attends the Live Unforgettable Dinner Series at Waldorf Astoria Chicago on November 30, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.
If “I saw you across the bar and I’m looking for a third” was a person. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Waldorf Astoria)

Notably Played Gay: Running with Scissors, The Box, Truth Be Told, LA’s Finest

In the last five years or so, Gabrielle Union has made an entire subset of her career playing bisexual characters who have less than five seconds of close sexual proximity with another woman (Truth Be Told, LA’s Finest). And in each instance I’ve watched the entire show, regardless, in a vain hope for more. Personally I think that I should be able to sue for damages.

7. Gina Torres (age 54)

Gina Torres attends "The Perfect Find" premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival at BMCC Theater on June 14, 2023 in New York City.
Yes, there’s Gina Torres. Counterpoint: There’s Gina Torres in. a. suit. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

I keep thinking I should have something else to say. But then I look at her. My mind draws a blank.

Whew. Like a fine wine.

6. Jada Pinkett Smith (age 52)

Jada Pinkett Smith attends the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 27, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California.
I’d melt. (Photo by Rich Fury/VF22/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

Notably Played Gay: The Women

Side quest: But have you ever seen this grainy VHS footage from Tisha Campbell’s wedding in the 90s when Jada is seemingly flirting with Tasha Smith’s twin sister, Sidra? It’s 15 seconds to make you smile. I’m just saying, now imagine that on screen.

5. Grace Jones (age 75)

Grace Jones performs during the Icon Ball during London Fashion Week September 2021 at The Landmark Hotel on September 17, 2021 in London, England.
Comme un oiseau qui s’envole (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

I cannot believe that Grace Jones has just never played a queer woman on screen??? Surely, that must be a misprint????

4. Taraji P. Henson (age 53)

Taraji P. Henson attends The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City.
I just — I mean —I —(Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

Notably Played Gay: Smokin’ Aces, The Color Purple

If you had asked even as recently as November if I thought that Taraji P. Henson could believably play a queer woman on screen, I would have said no. That’s not a diss! Not everything is for everybody!! But thenThe Color Purple released. And now:

A quote from Shaquille O'Neal apologizing to a basketball player: "HOWE YOU AN APOLOGY. I WASN'T REALLY FAMILIAR WITH YOUR GAME."

3. Audra McDonald (age 53)

Audra Mcdonald arriving on the red carpet at the 30th Screen Actors Guild Awards in Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall in Los Angeles, CA, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.
Respectfully. RESPECTFULLY. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Notably Played Gay: Hello, Again

Once upon a time, there was a little known movie musical from 2017 known as Hello, Again and in it Audra McDonald is in a queer relationship for the length of approximately one song. But I did not personally know of this instance until 2021, when Drew wrote us a history. It has haunted me ever since.

You see, I was given a taste. I’ve seen what’s possible. Much like Martin Luther King, I’ve seen the mountain top. I cannot stop. I cannot rest. I will keep marching towards freedom seeing Audra McDonald press a woman against a wall and sing hotly into her ear once again.

2. Nia Long (age 53)

Nia Long attends the 2022 EBONY Power 100 at Milk Studios Los Angeles on October 29, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Turning girls gay for three decades and counting. (Photo by Momodu Mansaray/Getty Images)

Notably Played Gay: If These Walls Could Talk 2, Dear White People, Broken Hearts Club

No other straight actress has played gay more on this list than Nia Long. In fact, in our historic list of the 60 straight actresses who have played gay the most… she comes in at a whomping 43! Amazing. And yet! All of these roles have been bad? Like, terrible, no good, very bad bad.

I simply must believe that the mutual gay root of both myself and Janelle Monáe deserves better.

1. Sanaa Lathan (age 52)

Sanaa Lathan visits the IMDb Portrait Studio at Acura Festival Village on Location at Sundance 2023 on January 23, 2023 in Park City, Utah.
IYKYK. (Photo by Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb)

Notably Played Gay: Kissed Jacqueline Bisset in an episode of Nip/Tuck

Some might say that I’m wild for giving the #1 spot to such an “unproven talent” in this field. Some might say that this will age badly. That one day the universe will laugh at my bullish arrogance as foolishness.

And to that I say three small words: Love & Basketball.

Your honor, I rest my case.

And because I’m an overachiever who likes a challenge, here are 15 MORE Black women over 50 who I think should play gay (again), unranked: Niecy Nash, Anika Noni Rose, Vanessa Williams (both of them), Whoopi Goldberg, Sophie Okonedo, Cree Summer, Garcelle Beauvais, Vanessa Bel Calloway, Karen Robinson, Wanda Sykes, Viola Davis, Sidra Smith (Tasha Smith’s queer twin sister that far too few people talk about!!), Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Lisa Bonet!

Pictures of the Autostraddle senior editor team are collaged in colors of cobalt and orange with the words "Support Queer Media" and the number 15 strewed all over for Autostraddle's 15th birthday

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Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 700 articles for us.


  1. This is the content I’m here for. The scene between Halle Berry and Sheila Atim is excellent. Some notes:

    – Taraji played a butch assassin in love with her partner, Alicia Keys, in Smokin’ Aces

    – Sanaa kissed Jacqueline Bisset in an episode of Nip/Tuck

    – Jada Pinkett Smith was queer-coded in Magic Mike XXL but all the good stuff was cut, apprently

  2. this is the kind of cutting edge journalism i expect from you Carmen. i co-sign every damn woman on this list. maybe we should write that Angela Bassett movie together…

  3. I’m Lu and I approve this message.

    Now you’ve got me coupling them up…would most like to see Queen & Regina and Audra & Sanaa. Ooh and a wildcard pairing from outside the top 15: Whoopi Goldberg & Golda Rosheuvel.

  4. How are these actresses in their 50s?! Aren’t they like 35???

    … wait. I turn 35 next week….


    I absolutely loved LOOOOVED Taraji as Shug Avery oh my god. More of that PLEASE.

    • 1. Audra pressing Sanaa Lathan against a wall and singing hotly into her ear… I see your vision. You are a visionary.

      2. Erika was THISSSSCLOSE to making it on this list. You have no idea.

  5. Articles that were beamed directly from my brain!! Yay! My one addition would be Michelle Hurd. While looking her up to verify age I realized that outside of her lead bi role in Picard, she’s played gay in a variety of shows I now need to watch for science. Also, I need that Angel Bassett movie like I need air. Maybe more. And if we’re pairing them up then Tracee Ellis Ross and Gabrielle Union need to play divorced lovers in something. This is based solely off their vibes but I’ve always thought they would play off each other really well. It would also be extremely hot. And seconding Renée Elise Goldsberry whom I love in Girls5eva and would be fantastic in a Devil Wears Prada (but actually gay) sort of thing.

  6. I don’t know if this counts but Sanaa Lathan voices Catwoman on Harley Quinn and apparently Catwoman and Poison Ivy used to hook up. Also, I second everyone on this list and I love this!

  7. Gina Torres played gay aaaaall the way back in 1998, in her guest appearance in “La Femme Nikita”! As a prisoner who the titular Femme Nikita needs to seduce for information!

    (The episode is not nearly as great as that sentence makes it sound! It’s kind of bad, actually! But it exists and it is gay, in that “how do we show a baddie is REALLY depraved?” way.)

    • …I did not actually finish that comment before sending it! What I meant to say was:

      (The episode is not nearly as great as that sentence makes it sound! It’s kind of bad, actually! But it exists and it is gay, in that “how do we show a baddie is REALLY depraved?” way that felt typical of the time as was very much a thing in this show in particular.)

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