Sound Off: Luke James Is an Example of Selective “Separating the Art From the Artist”

Luke James doesn’t receive the same grace and praise for his work as convicted sexual assaulters R. Kelly and Bill Cosby.

Elizabeth Randolph - Author
By

May 9 2024, Published 5:37 p.m. ET

(l-r): Luke James and L'Terrett Jazelle on 'The Chi'
Source: Showtime

Hollywood is no stranger to multi-talented individuals who can seamlessly transition from one creative field to another. Throughout his career, Luke James has steadily proven that he is ready to join the ranks of Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and all of the versatile talent who can excel in multiple domains.

I first heard of Luke in college, around 2014 or 2015. His voice mesmerized me, and one of his songs, “I.O.U.,” had me in a chokehold for an entire semester.

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Soon after falling in love with his pipes (and seemingly perfectly good looks), I and the rest of the world discovered the talented actor within him. Over a short period, Luke has made a successful transition into acting. In May 2024, he had social media on fire after performing in Prime Video’s horror series Them. The New Orleans native also has a starring role on Showtime/Paramount Plus’s The Chi as Victor “Trig” Taylor.

Luke James
Source: Getty Images
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There are numerous intriguing aspects of Luke James’s character in The Chi, from his role as a caretaker for his younger brother, Jake (Michael Epps), to his transformation from a thug to a politician. However, it's his relationships with two openly transgender women on the show, played by trans actors — Jasmine Davis and L’lerret Jazelle — that seem to be the focus of The Chi's avid viewers.

In a May 2024 interview with The Breakfast Club, the actor — who welcomed a baby with a woman named Sunny Lewis in 2023 — defended the criticisms he receives for playing a man attracted to trans women, a testament to his commitment to his role and the show.

Sadly, Luke’s treatment from critics of his character being attracted to trans women isn’t much of a surprise. To some, his character is worse than the real-life actions of artists who have managed to be “separated” from their art.

Let’s get into this Sound Off.

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Luke James
Source: Getty Images

Luke James has been subject to homophobic and transphobic online comments since joining ‘The Chi.’

In Season 5 of The Chi, Luke’s co-star Jasmine announced she decided to leave her role as Imani. L’Terrett joined the series the following season as Victor’s new girlfriend, Fatima.

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As their relationship progressed, Luke, the actor, continued receiving hateful comments on social media, with many jumping quickly to homophobia and transphobia by calling him gay.

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Throughout his time on The Chi, Luke has defended Victor’s romantic relationships in multiple interviews, telling AP Entertainment that the criticisms he receives “don’t move me,” no matter how many times his haters try.

He also proved himself to be the artist critics say they want, stating that his ability to “ruffle your feathers” is necessary while creating art that will “reflect the times.”

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“Separate the art from the artists,” right?

Contrary to one homophobic belief, if a man or woman is attracted to transgender people — also known as skoliosexuality, per WebMD — it doesn’t mean they define themselves as gay or even a member of the LGBTQIA community.

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As trans people, activists, and allies have been trying to drill in mindless heads, TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN, AND TRANS MEN ARE MEN. So, if we want to talk gender, there’s nothing “gay” about a straight man shooting his shot, as Cosmopolitan explained in a 2015 feature on skoliosexual men.

“Finding transgender people attractive is the most natural thing in the world,” one heterosexual man shared. “They are beautiful."

\Within the Black community, real-life couple and social media sensations Charles and Mrs. Netta show that neither The Chi nor Luke is (hopefully) trans-baiting by his character. As Luke mentioned on The Breakfast Club, his job was to bring “truth” to his character, including a relationship he said he’s “kindred to.”

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Luke further said showing his character “be a loving person” with his partner shouldn’t have been as taboo as fans made it. Charlamagne then questioned him about how he’s “protecting his peace” as he continues facing backlash for his role as Victor. The actor again focused on the art, stating nothing else bothered him.

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Luke’s approach to the chatter concerning his role is honorable and the perfect example of what it means to be unbothered. However, few could blame him for not sharing his frustration with those who, in this case, can’t separate the art from the artist.

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), Luke and his supporters’ belief that he is a brilliant actor first is in the minority. Many of his naysayers choose to go the latter, the more childish route of jumping to his sexuality.

(l-r): R. Kelly and Bill Cosby
Source: Getty Images

R. Kelly and Bill Cosby

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However, it’s safe to say these people on social media are the same ones screaming for Apple to bring back the discography of R. Kelly — a convicted sex abuser and pedophile currently serving 20 years in prison. Because, to many, no matter how much time has passed since that legendary Boondocks episode, stepping in the name of love is separate from decades of predatory behavior.

And, while we’re here, let’s also remember that folks were furious when The Cosby Show’s reruns halted amid Bill Cosby’s 2015 rape allegations, in which he was convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault. Like R. Kelly, Bill served three years in prison before being released in 2021. Still, even through his convictions, someone on some corner of the internet is still debating if we can separate “America’s Dad” from the man we now know.

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If some of you can even consider forgiving known predators, I would love to think you can show the same grace to an actor showing a version of love that is real, valid, and just as beautiful as anyone else’s. Alas, this is ’Merica, where transphobia and homophobia can openly rear its ugly heads on any given basis.

Fortunately, Luke is planning on more seasons of The Chi and a lifetime of being way too easy on the eyes.

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