Cynthia Erivo said the themes of embracing individuality despite “systems of oppression” and reclaiming negative labels in the upcoming blockbuster film Wicked resonate with the LGBT community.

The London-born actress and singer appeared at the Los Angeles LGBT Centre gala at the Shrine Auditorium, where she was honoured with the Schrader Award for her achievements in entertainment and activism within the LGBT community.

Oscar-nominated actress Erivo, who identified herself as bisexual in 2022, will next be seen playing Elphaba in an adaptation of the hit musical Wicked alongside chart-topping pop star Ariana Grande, who will play Galinda.

“Elphaba’s story is the cautionary tale of what it can sometimes mean to have to stand in your individuality, your otherness, even when systems of oppression are set against you,” Erivo said on stage after collecting her award.

“It is the story of how a colourful, powerful, magical woman, despite being disparaged, demonised and discriminated against, becomes the hero.

“Wicked is the reclamation and the reimagining of all the labels that are used against her; it is the proclamation of her right to exist in all of her power – if that sounds familiar to you, colourful, magical people in this room, it should.”

The 37-year-old said she hopes the film helps to “build bridges towards each other’s hearts”.

“This is why I keep singing, why I keep acting, why I keep creating, why I keep telling stories, why I teaching and providing a space for others to share their own stories, it’s why I choose to show up fully as myself,” she said.

The MET Gala 2024 – New York
Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo attending the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala 2024 (Matt Crossick/PA)

“We are living through intensely polarised times, it seems, that all over we are keen on seeing the world in black and white rather than embracing the difficult but beautiful complexities of our humanity.

“So I see there is no coincidence that the universe urged a director by the name of Jon M Chu to take on the mammoth task that is Wicked, that the universe saw fit to lead me to him…my darling queen Elphaba.”

Directed by Crazy Rich Asians filmmaker Jon M Chu, Wicked also stars Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh as Madame Morrible, Bridgerton star Jonathan Bailey as Fiyero Tigelaar and Jeff Goldblum as the Wizard of Oz.

Erivo was presented with the award by US actress Jada Pinkett-Smith.

“I am in awe of you and your capacity to see people in all their fullness and the power you have to encourage me to keep mining for the deepest parts of myself,” Erivo told her.

EE British Academy Film Awards 2023 – Arrivals – London
Cynthia Erivo is an Oscar-nominated actress who has also won a Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award (Ian West/PA)

The Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning star said it was a privilege to receive the award because “for so long, I lived in deep admiration of anyone who could fully embody their true authentic self”.

“I used to say it felt like I was looking at my own community from inside a glass box; they were vibrant and beautiful, falling in love, and I had my nose pressed up against the glass looking out at all of you.

“It took time for me to outgrow my box, but time is a gift that gives us space to see ourselves clearly enough to know that denying a part of oneself is a disservice to the whole you.

“But now the glass is shattered, there are no boxes in sight, and I have walked out into the wide open spaces into the arms of you all and it feels like home.”

Erivo said claiming her queerness in the public eye meant “taking a risk”, but hiding a little part of herself was not leaving enough room for the characters she embodies to “thrive”.

“When we pour all of ourselves into something or someone, it’s like serving the most nutritious meal. You cultivate in an atmosphere that allows work – to live, not just exist.

“I wanted to live, not just exist.”

The actress and singer aimed the conclusion of her speech at young people.

She added: “I know there are young people who need to see me speak out so that they can get one step closer to doing the same thing for themselves.

“I know that by proudly displaying the beauty of our gifts, it will encourage our young people to be brave enough to step into the full potential of theirs.

“We cannot help others be free until we are willing to be brave enough to set ourselves free.”

The Los Angeles LGBT Centre gala is held annually to celebrate the achievements of those within the LGBT+ community while raising funds for its community services.