Wait, Why Are We Okay With Straight Actors Playing Gay Characters? (OPINION)
Converse to our current White House administration, society has never been more woke than in 2018. We even have the word "woke." And everything about this wokeness feels as though the co-opting of gay culture would be frowned upon. An increasing number of people understand the importance of correct pronoun usage when addressing trans people. Through the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, we are finally shining a light on abuse against women and inequality in the workplace. Black Panther's $1 billion international box office haul has ushered in the era of the bankable black superhero. Katy Perry has short hair. Katy Perry has short hair people.
In 2018 we emphasize the importance of diversity as well as acknowledge the injustices facing many marginalized groups. Representation is a key factor in equality, and projects such as Lady Bird - which The Guardian called "the first truly feminist teen movie" - only underscore the importance of allowing all groups the chance to share their unique perspectives. But you know what's not diverse, and not unique, and not representation? A straight man playing a gay man.
Here's another way to break this down. One of everyone's favorite fun facts is that during Shakespeare's time, male actors played female roles exclusively. This practice evaporated once pioneering women proved capable of acting, and society allowed them to do it. Similarly, before actors were able to come out as gay without the threat of being blacklisted, straight, or "straight," actors played gay roles.
But now we have gay actors. Capable of playing gay roles. What am I missing? It's 2018 and we're celebrating Timotheé Chamalet's bravery in licking Hammer's face in Call Me By Your Name. We're encouraging youths to watch straight actor Nick Robinson play a confused gay teen in Love, Simon, when really the message is that a gay teen is only worthy of our attention if he's portrayed by a straight actor. With straight mannerisms.
Gay actor Clark Moore's Ethan in Love, Simon was the flamboyant one. The "other." He garnered chuckles for his quips and even inspired us with his stoicism. He might have even been a hero for the way he stood up to bullies. But he wasn't the hero gay youths wanted to be. And the fact that openly gay director Greg Berlanti felt the need to relinquish the gay-acting kid to the stereotypical role of sassy BFF to a group of girls speaks volumes.
Some defend the casting of straight actors in gay roles by pointing to the fact that their star power can help a project flourish in a way that a lesser known gay actor couldn't. Others say that we don't have the talent pool of openly gay actors yet necessary to fill all the roles. Roles that we should feel thankful for existing in the first place. And while this might have been the case for the feature-length Marlboro ad Brokeback Mountain in 2005, it's 2018, and I don't need to be saved by a straight man anymore.
The past few years have brought some true bright spots - with gay actors Wentworth Miller and Russell Tovey taking on a romantic storyline on the The Flash and fellow out actors Charlie Carver and Colton Haynes sharing a passionate moment on Teen Wolf. But for every success, there's a Dallas Buyers Club. Straight actors leverage gay roles as career opportunities, and not uncommonly as Oscar bait, but it's the struggles of real gay people that have made these roles so compelling and so multifaceted, and to swoop in at the last minute and co-opt that is no longer acceptable. It's, dare I say, un-woke.
This post is the opinion of this contributing writer to Instinct Magazine. Opinion pieces do not always reflect the stance of the magazine or the other contributing writers.