Trans actress and activist Quei Tann, who has played a wide range of characters over just a few short years, is pleased to now be settling into a recurring role in Tyler Perry’s Bruh. Tann portrays police officer Darla Grills in the BET+ sitcom, which chronicles the escapades of a group of thirty-something Black males.
If Tann looks familiar, then perhaps you’ve seen her in another streaming series—the satire Dear White People on Netflix. Or, maybe, you caught her turn on ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder. She’s also been in short films—including Postmarked, which was produced under the mentorship of Lena Waithe—and is currently working on the TikTok series Hidden Canyons, which explores LGBTQ+ issues and relationships.
Tann, who laughingly responds with the Hollywood maxim “18, to play younger” when asked her age, grew up quickly. As a child, the Los Angeles native says, she suffered physical abuse at the hands of a close family member, which led to her and her mom moving away to Las Vegas.
According to the actress, working now with Perry feels like a “full-circle moment.” “When all of this was happening,” she says, referring to the torment she suffered under her abuser, “Tyler Perry’s plays [were coming out]. In the Black community that I lived in, we [heard about them] outside of church, barber shops and hair salons. I would watch those plays as young as the age of 4.”
“These plays, and most of Mr. Perry’s projects, are about Black women, and, oftentimes, Black women escaping abuse, finding love,” she continues, “you know, the power of Black women—Black women standing up for themselves. Those plays were really a safe haven for me and they taught me an amazing lesson really early on.”
She remembers being intrigued by the idea of acting when she’d see the relatively uncomplicated life of child stars on her favorite TV shows. “When I was younger, I remember watching That’s So Raven and watching The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. They just all looked so happy—like they had no problems,” she recalls. “I wanted that in my life.” Hence, she asked her mom to sign her up for acting classes and went on to do school plays and community theater. “Once I turned 16 I got my license and I said goodbye to Vegas and moved backed to Los Angeles and I made it happen,” she adds.
“I slept in my car, I lived in a homeless shelter for youth, I [crashed at] a marijuana grow house. I did whatever I had to do to find a way, and it was the most bonkers journey,” she laughs, “but I got to where I wanted to get to. I was focused. I wasn’t out here partying; I wasn’t drinking and going to clubs. I had enough excitement just trying to make it.”
The actress explains that she wound up sleeping in her car after the grow house was raided. “It was straight out of a movie—guns and dogs—the whole thing. The police let me go and I didn’t have a place to stay anymore,” she shares. Luckily, a woman she encountered told her of emergency shelters that housed youths under the age of 18. Tann ended up staying at the Los Angeles Youth Network for a bit before landing at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
“They really did me a solid,” the actress acknowledges. “I stayed there for about 12 months and I really loved their program. The center’s program has you put aside about 80 percent of your check into a savings fund. Once your 12 months, are up and you graduate from the program, you have this really great savings,” she adds. “That’s something I’ve taken with me into my profession now; I put money into a Roth IRA. You always have to take care of your bottom line. When you experience homelessness, and being hungry, that’s something that stays with you.”
Another thing that has stayed with her is a commitment to give back to the haven that supported her in her time of need. “I’m queer myself and consider myself an activist for everybody in the LGBTQ+ community,” she says. “I oftentimes just go back to the LGBT Center. Sometimes we go and do testing. Sometimes we’ll help with certain events, such as talent events. Sometimes it’s education.”
Tann, who’s played both queer and non-queer characters, says she transitioned at an early age. “Obviously, when I was extremely young I didn’t have a clear understanding of gender and what that was and the way in which we kind of separate and segregate and classify people. I also didn’t understand race in that way either. But, when I was younger I was just always me—always Quei.”
“Before I could even put a label to it everyone in my family, everyone in my community was harassing me because I’m feminine, because I’ve always just been a girl,” she shares. “That’s just something they always tried to police—in the same way that they always try to police Black people for speaking a certain way or wearing a certain type of clothing or expressing themselves in a certain way. That was the exact same thing that the people in my community were trying to do to me.”
“They were policing my natural expression, and they tried to beat it out of me, they tried to shame it out of me, and that never worked because you’re always are going to be who you are,” she explains.
“I knew this, before I knew anything else, I knew that I was always going to be true to myself. And that’s what I’ve done.”
Season 2 of Bruh is available for streaming on the BET+ .