As Ncuti Gatwa returns to the fourth and final series of Sex Education as sassy student Eric Effiong, the actor has opened up about his sexuality for the first time.
The fourth season of the hit coming-of-age series arrives in September, and will be packed with more sexy shenanigans from the school students. As they all adjust to new life at the preppy Cavendish Sixth Form College, Eric has the extra problem of having to confront his messy breakup with classmate Adam (Connor Swindells).
In a new profile with Elle magazine, the 30-year-old Rwandan-Scottish actor reflected on the cathartic experience of playing a gay teen, and how it had allowed him to be his authentic self.
“Shout out to [screenwriter] Laurie Nunn for giving nuance to this gay, Black character and gifting him to the world,” Gatwa said.
“[Eric]’s so fierce and unashamed. It was healing for me, and great for people to see themselves represented. It taught me the importance of representation: it’s so powerful and necessary.”
What’s more, the show allowed Gatwa, who was born in Rwanda and raised in Scotland, to work through the racism he has faced in the past.
“It undid a lot of the internalised hate I had,” he continued. “I’ve experienced racism my whole life, and, while I always believed in myself, always knew [racists] were stupid and uneducated, I guess it did misinform my view of how the world works.
“It makes you think everyone has that opinion and you’ll constantly have to fight through life. Then you learn that you don’t: you can find a tribe, you can find your people.”
One obstacle Gatwa has had to overcome is being seen as a “tick-box” exercise. It was an accusation levelled against him by online trolls after he was announced as the next Time Lord in iconic British sci-fi series Doctor Who.
“First of all, you don’t know anything about me,” he pointed out. “Secondly, tick f**king boxes. People need to be f**king seen. What are you going to do, tell the same stories? Have the same people fronting things for all of eternity?
“Representation and inclusivity and branching out … enriches us all. How embarrassing. You people with your tiny mind sets. Open a book, look out the window, then f*ck off.”
And no one understands how empowering rarely seen representation is better than the Barbie star, who had his own transformative experience at Manchester Pride a few years ago.
While attending the LGBTQ+ festivities with some friends, he spotted a Rwandan woman in the crowd.
“I can feel myself getting emotional just thinking about it,” he recalled. “We were holding hands, and she said to me, ‘I don’t really know why I’m here. I’m just here.’
“I told her: ‘Honey, you don’t need to know. You absolutely do not need to know. You’re here. Be proud of who you are.’
“I had never met another queer Rwandan person before. I thought I was the only one in the world.”
Ncuti Gatwa’s role in Sex Education has shaped him. (Sam Taylor/Netflix)
It’s not the first time Gatwa has spoken about the power of on-screen diversity. After landing the coveted role of the Doctor, he said he hoped to inspire “marginalised people” everywhere.
“[The role] is so deep in British culture and the fabric of Britishness that as a Rwandan immigrant to the country, it just feels really powerful,” he said during a Disney+ and BBC press conference in October.
“[Doctor Who] matters for people of colour, for marginalised people who really gravitate towards the show because it’s about friendship and adventure, about union and unity.”