Actress Danielle Moné Truitt is the woman behind Law & Order: Organized Crime’s Sergeant Ayanna Bell—aka, the Law & Order franchise’s most groundbreaking co-lead character yet, for being both a Black woman and queer. And while Truitt herself is straight, within her journey to this role—a personal breakthrough, too—there is a peripherally queer theme: It took Truitt a while to embrace what several signs throughout her life suggested she was meant to be—in her case, an actress.
She discovered a love for singing, dancing, and acting at an early age, then was cast as the lead in a play in grade school, and again in high school. But despite enjoying theater, her knack for landing the starring roles, and teacher encouragement, Truitt prioritized other activities in high school, and never considered pursuing an acting career. However, in college, after immensely enjoying participating in a play, Truitt finally embraced acting as her path, changing her major from psychology to theater and thereafter pursuing acting in Los Angeles, CA.
Starring roles didn’t come quite as readily for her in the real world as in school, but fifteen years into Truitt’s acting career pursuit, megaproducer Dick Wolf and his team seemingly saw what her teachers had seen in her. She was chosen as the lead for Law & Order: Organized Crime without even having to formally audition, and with only one lead role—in the 2017 BET show Rebel—and a handful of other parts on her resume. Despite her youth acting success suggesting she was fit for such a feat, Truitt was surprised by landing the role as she did—but happy about it.
And, after absorbing the surprise of the job offer, she received a different kind of surprise about the role: she learned Sgt. Bell would be queer. Truitt immediately felt a responsibility in taking on that representation. She was nervous, especially since she’s a straight actress, and because Bell would bear the queer identity along with being a Black woman. But Truitt felt up to the challenge.
“It’s a lot of pressure to put on one character, one actress; I feel like I have [two] eggs in my hands,” says Truitt. “[But] I’m going to do the best I can to represent women, queer women, Black women…and to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.”
To help ensure proper representation, Truitt minds how Bell is written, leaning on insight from queer friends, and from Law & Order: Organized Crime queer former showrunner, Ilene Chaiken (The L Word). In performing, Truitt tries not to “caricaturize” Bell in terms of any identity—being Black, female, gay, or a cop.
“That’s the worst way to play a human,” says Truitt. “Because regardless of the hats we wear or what we identify with, we’re all souls… that want to be loved, accepted, respected, and feel safe, so those are the things I focus on with Bell.”
So far, Bell and Truitt’s portrayal has been well-received. Truitt knew Bell’s queerness would be significant, but she’s realized it means even more to fans than she anticipated, with many telling her that she helps them feel seen as queer women, and especially Black queer women. Truitt has appreciated this and has enjoyed Bell’s romantic storyline thus far. She wants to explore more about Bell’s queerness, but hints that the upcoming April 6 episode will somewhat deliver; Following a serious situation at a gay bar, Bell will be tasked with helping the LGBTQ+ community when she must find the person who is drugging gay men and is forced to face many things within herself in the process.
Beyond that, Truitt isn’t sure if recent flirtation between Bell and Detective Isabelle Chang (Angela Lin) will turn into anything, but she would love to see an episode where Bell jumps back into dating by going undercover at a speed-dating event.
Truitt’s own future plans include reviving her one-woman play “3: Black Girl Blues” for summer performances, vacationing, and spending time with her sons. In the meantime, she’s continuing to soak up what it means to play Sgt. Bell—including being embraced by queer fans. “It makes my heart feel full that people look at me and are proud that I’m representing their community,” says Truitt. “It means everything to me.”