It is a fascinating statement to make in 2012, the land of bigger, louder, faster television, that a show so aimed at the young, notably impatient, demographic like The L.A. Complex would want to explore a conflict as internal as the one with his own sexuality, from which Kaldrick King (Andra Fuller) suffers. But perhaps what is most fascinating about it is not the way in which the series goes about exploring it but the simple yet profound statement made by the fact that the facet of who Kal is is such a fresh wound to the man at all. Sitting in our not-quite ivory tower as a straight woman in Los Angeles, it's easy to overlook the complex and often times combative beliefs floating around in one's mind that make it just so difficult to feel comfortable in one's skin. Even when one seems to have it all.
Let’s put it into perspective: Kaldrick King is a bonafide hip-hop star—perhaps the biggest name in the music industry within his world—and he’s gay. But he goes to great lengths to keep his secret, including beating his boyfriend when they are caught kissing, claiming the kid came onto him. But in our world, hip-hop and R&B star Frank Ocean just came out, and “so far so good” with the acceptance from his peers and his fans. Since series creator Martin Gero doesn’t “like to tell stories that you’d typically hear,” he has opted not to focus on the public implications to Kal’s secret and instead turn television inward to create a unique and powerful emotional journey of self-discovery. What one might think is quite solitary—a story made for the pages of a novel—Gero and Kal’s portrayer himself have turned into a visually stunning, compelling saga that asks its audience to consider the real hardship in coming out may not have anything to do with outward acceptance or perception at all but instead be based in one’s own inner demons.
“Kaldrick is the way he is because he doesn’t like himself; he can’t live the way he wants to. He verbalizes it so many times: ‘I can’t be me; I can’t be who I want to be; I’m sorry I can’t be the person you want me to be.’ He’s said it in so many different ways, I think for him, his biggest accomplishment would ultimately be able to look at himself in the mirror and be okay with what he sees,” Fuller shared.
“The day he can come out and say ‘I’m gay’ or ‘I’m a homosexual’ or ‘I am attracted to men’, that would be a huge step… The ultimate goal is for him to say it out-loud to himself and be okay with it."
The character of Kal didn’t grow up in a world where being gay was something he saw celebrated, let alone acknowledged as commonplace. Though no one was necessarily pointing a finger at him and accusing him of having tendencies or shouting sexual slurs at him, it was still ingrained (mostly due to his relationship with his father) that he was “not good enough.” Sometimes the specifics don’t have to be said for a kid to walk away still feeling “weird” or “different.”
This stirred a lot of anger and resentment around inside of the character, which ultimately manifested itself in a self-loathing that would probably still be there even if he didn’t have this other secret gnawing at him. As Gero explained, Kal’s arc is getting himself to a place where he can like himself—all of himself—let alone respect himself.
“I don’t think Kal hates himself because of what his father said or did—it’s all part of it—but Kal hates himself because he’s gay. That’s him growing up in a society where that’s just not acceptable in any way. His father is part of that, but I think what you see is his father is somebody who experienced a major change in his life. He was one person at the beginning of his life, and he seems to be another person now; he’s gone through a transformation. And that’s something that Kal desperately wants,” Gero said.
“He’s done so well at [lying] in his life, you know? No one suspects that Kaldrick King is [gay]. He’s done almost too good a job at convincing the people around him who he is, and I think the more interesting story is him being faced with what he’s created. He doesn’t see himself in Kaldrick King anymore.”
When Gero first started breaking Kal’s storyline, the world of hip-hop, even if not entertainment as a whole, was still a place where a rapper “could not” be gay, regardless of the individual person’s own beliefs or comfort level. Ocean may not be the internationally known household name that Kal is in the world of The L.A. Complex but regardless, events with Ocean have informed what we have seen unfold on-screen, especially with Kal’s record label executive learning the truth and not caring, as long as it means they can keep making powerful music.
“We were building to a certain end for that story at the end of these thirteen episodes, and it was in a world where no one in hip hop had ever come out, and now that’s not the case,” Gero noted.
“We had to adjust the storyline a little bit to seem current in the world…It definitely changed the landscape of our discussion. To ignore it would have been a big mistake.”
After all, as much as Kal’s struggles first are to get right with himself, there is a much bigger element at stake here in his career, let alone his fame, and The L.A. Complex won’t be able to keep it on the back-burner forever. Ocean may have been embraced thus far, but Kal is on a different level—not only as an international superstar but also as a celebrity who actively covered up his true self for as long as he’s been on the scene. He may not have gone to extremes like hiring a red carpet girlfriend, but his songs (metaphors or not) often referenced women he’d slept with and so on. What makes his journey so stimulating, and potentially so tragic, is that it cannot be solely the solitary journey of exploration and acceptance the man needs it to be. Sooner or later, he is going to have to face the public in a way that a regular person grappling with the same self-esteem issues never will. And everyone knows just how strong—and varied—the public’s opinion can be.
“I think it’s important to keep in mind that just because some celebrities are out…and just because it seems like those in Hollywood or New York don’t have a problem with homosexuality, there is still some incredible bigotry going on in the United States. The fact [is] that there’s this whole bullying epidemic where people are killing themselves because they’re gay and they can’t see a future,” Gero pointed out.
“I think it’s great when celebrities come out, and I think it’s great to show people you know—it’s more important to know if your teachers are gay or your friend’s father is gay—but in large parts of the country still, and large parts of the world still it’s not accepted to be a homosexual. So I think that kind of self-loathing and self-hatred of what you are is believable and understandable. It’s just depressing. Unfortunately we live in a world where a lot of people are repressing for what they think is ‘normal’.”
For Fuller, a straight male playing a gay character, though, the most important thing when taking and now playing the role was to be able to do the extremely emotional, very relatable story justice for his public. Fuller is aware of just how many people are struggling in the real world the way Kal is on-screen, and he feels a responsibility to tell the story properly while still offering a bit of guidance to help those come to terms with themselves.
“I imagine when you’re dealing with something like being in the closet with your sexuality, there’s a lot of hiding that you have to do in plain sight. You can’t really be the person you want to be. So to see a parallel of your own story portrayed on television every week, I know that’s a touching thing for a lot of people,” Fuller said, referencing the “hundreds or thousands” of messages he has received via Facebook and Twitter since the show started airing as proof.
“In my humble opinion, I think a lot of it is people expect the worst. It’s kind of human nature to expect the worst when it’s that big of a deal. You know, you kind of think, for example, that scene where Tariq was talking to Abby on the stairs, he says ‘He’s going to tell people at the label…They don’t even know it yet, but they hate me.’ To me that seems like a typical reaction of people who are closeted homosexuals because they assume that people, especially guys, will hate you…[You] can’t even see the possibility of a positive reaction…but it’s there; it happens.”