Saturday, June 18, 2022

Tian Richards’ Message to Queer Youth: “Every Part of Your Identity Is a Superpower”

The Wild Reed’s 2022 Queer Appreciation series continues with a celebration of actor Tian Richards and the show in which he stars, Tom Swift. What’s there to celebrate, you may be asking. Well, Tian, in taking on the title role in The CW’s latest new series, is making history as the first gay, Black lead on network television.

Based on the main character of over 100 young adult science fiction and adventure novels dating back to 1910, Tom Swift is also a spin-off of The CW’s Nancy Drew series. As such, it's set in the “Drew-niverse.” It premiered on May 31, 2022.

Speaking with TV Line last year during the filming of the new adaptation, Tian Richards shared the following.

The original Tom Swift was great for his time and what he represented. At the time, that was the face of young boys, All-American kids full of possibilities.

But [today], that can look so different. It can look like someone like me – a Black guy who is chocolate, who is queer, who is all those things that we’re told aren’t the normal or the status quo. We’re going to dive into so many sectors of identity. We’re going to talk about Blackness – and a different kind of Blackness than we’re used to seeing, which is the Black elite, the 1 percent, the billionaires. Were also going to talk about a queer boy’s journey into becoming a queer man. Not only self-acceptance, but acceptance as a whole, having the community and people around you.

If I had an opportunity to see someone like this exist when I was younger, just think of how much sooner I would have felt [more confident] in my skin and welcomed by the world. I had representation here and there, but it was usually a secondary character, or you felt like they were being stereotyped. Tom gets to exist in all of his beauty and pride. He gets to grow up in a family with a legacy, to have endless possibilities in education and tech and inventing. He gets to realize himself for himself, and that’s beautiful for anyone to see.

Above: Tian Richards and Hayward Leach in Tom Swift (2022).

More recently, Tian spoke with and shared the following.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine someone who looks like me and shows up in the world as I do, could be the hero! I am immensely proud to be the first Black gay lead on network TV.

I am thankful for the shoulders I stand on that have allowed me to get to this place, and for you be next generations to come that will be inspired by what we have created. For those young queer kids, those young Black kids who didn’t think they could lead, it’s POSSIBLE. And every part of your identity is a superpower! Keep dreaming, keep pushing, your time is coming! Happy Pride Month!

Following are some more quotes from Tian Richards. Enjoy!

What I love about the show is that we get to show-up in a very human, very celebatory way. It’s not about being tolerated, but being celebrated. It’s not about being preachy or beating anyone over the head with a message, but showing up, telling human stories, being ourselves, having fun. And I just love that aspect of being carefree, being Black, being queer, without carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.


There [was a] level of pride and it was feeling that beauty and that triumph going into it. And not only that, but to see us as in the sci-fi world, to see us intelligent, to know little queer boys will watch this – or girls or whoever – and feel inspired, seeing somebody that looks like them. Because that was always a void for me growing up, not seeing anybody I typically related to.


When I first got the role and was preparing everything, I was like “Well maybe I should read the source material to see what it’s about,” knowing that he came out in the early 1910s and twenties and what-not. But then once I got through some of it, I’m like, “Oh, this language is not only really dated, it’s really offensive.” And I understand it was written for and of the times, but the biggest takeaway that I got from it was their version, the first version, of Tom Swift—this young, all-American, blonde hair, blue-eyed kid—that was the idea of having endless possibility in this country.

Today, that looks so different. It can be somebody that’s black, that’s LGBT, and queer, and all the beautiful intersections that I represent and that Tom represents. And you know what, we can also be very empowered in that. And it’s not a victimization and it’s not feeling ashamed of it, but it’s having full pride and it’s having full capability. And I think that’s the beautiful thing.


Tom’s into aerospace engineering and AI [voiced by LeVar Burton], all these cool things. So you will see a lot of his inventions, what readers fell in love with in the first series of books. Things like the taser and the electric rifle and all the things that we got to see before, but in a 2021 version. Where technology is now and how much we’ve progressed, we’re able to see that.

In preparing, I was looking at a lot of things with this amazing, amazing young, black inventor, Iddris Sandu. He’s most known for being one of the youngest people to work at Google, and at Uber, he helped develop their algorithms. So in the same way that Robert Downey Jr. used Elon Musk to prepare for Tony Stark, Iddris Sandu was that for me in this. I just so admire it. And then a little bit of Jaden Smith. Those are the people I feel like are young, in tech, and are definitely aware of their privilege, but they get the job done, you know?


Not only is it great to be a part of this and to play this character, but this is something young Tian would have wanted and needed to see for so many reasons. And it just goes to show the evolution that we’re moving towards and the work that was done before. We had shows like Noah’s Arc and Looking back before us to really embody that world. But to show that we can be more than just our identities? That our identities are just a part of who we are and they don’t make the entire story? That we’re people just like everybody else? That’s the beautiful part.


And about the sex scene in Episode 3 of Tom Swift, executive producer Cameron Johnson had this to say to TVLine:

I think in Episode 3 we probably have one of the most groundbreaking, sexiest gay scenes I’ve ever seen on network TV. . . . I looked at the cut and I thought, “There’s no way the network is going to let us get away with this.” And they said, “Of course you can!” So, kudos to The CW.

NEXT: Gabbi Pierce on the “Evolution of Gender”

Related Off-site Links:
Tom Swift Cast Talks Representation and Queer Joy in New Promo – Jules (Nerds and Beyond, June 1, 2022).
Tom Swift Acknowledges Black Nerds and Highlights Black Wealth – Jamie Broadnax (, June 1, 2022).
Tom Swift – Keeping the Positivity of the Classic Book in Season 1 – Gary Catig (AIPT Comics, May 31, 2022).
Everything to Know About the Nancy Drew Spinoff Series Tom Swift – Yana Grebenyuk (Entertainment, May 31, 2022).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Cassandra Snow on Reclaiming the Word “Queer”
Queer Black Panther
In a Historic First, Country Music’s Latest Star Is a Queer Black Man
James Baldwin’s Potent Interweavings of Race, Homoeroticism, and the Spiritual
The Same Premise
The Response of One Gay Black Man to the Charge that MLK’s Dream Has Been “Hijacked” by the Gay Movement

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