Straight actors get Oscar nods for gay roles

Straight up: Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, and Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in The Favourite.

Yesterday, seven straight actors received Oscar nominations for playing LGBT film roles — more than a third of the total. And yet there were no openly gay actors on the list. Is this fair?

Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone in The Favourite. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody and Mahershala Ali in Green Book.

All wonderful actors who received Oscar nominations yesterday for playing LGBT characters. And yet they all have one thing in common: they are, as far as we know, straight.

In fact, 59 straight people have now been nominated for playing LGBT roles. The number of openly gay people nominated for playing LGBT roles? Two.

Is this a problem?

Last year, Darren Criss announced that he would no longer play gay characters on TV, “to make sure I won’t be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role.”

Five months earlier, Scarlett Johansson pulled out of playing a transgender man in the film Rub & Tug after backlash online. “I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person,” she told Out magazine. No transgender actor has ever been nominated for an Oscar.

However, other straight actors have defended their right to portray people who are different from themselves. That is, after all, the definition of acting.

“I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience,” said Cate Blanchett, who played a lesbian in the movie Carol.

What is more, a world in which only gay people could play gay roles would cause its own problems — including forcing actors to come out when they may not be ready. When Chloe Grace Moretz was asked about playing a gay character in The Miseducation of Cameron Post last year, she was uncomfortable. “Don’t ever assume anyone’s sexuality,” she told the interviewer.

LGBT actors have also complained about being pigeonholed after coming out. Rupert Everett has said that doing so “ruined” his career, as filmmakers could not imagine him being “convincing” as a straight man.

“I would like to see more gay actors playing straight roles,” said Ben Whishaw earlier this year. “It needs to be an even playing field for everybody.”

Playing it straight

So what is the solution? LGBT film fans will be pleased that more gay stories are being told and celebrated in Hollywood. But is it unfair for straight actors to be praised for their “brave” portrayals of gay characters, while gay actors claim they are being sidelined?

The debate is not just about sexuality. Last year, The Elephant Man was criticised for casting Charlie Heaton in the lead role instead of a disabled actor. And at the Golden Globes earlier this month, Emma Stone cried out “I’m sorry!” when host Sandra Oh joked about her role as a “part-Asian” woman in 2015’s Aloha. Should actors only play characters who share their experiences?

You Decide

  1. Which film should win the Oscar for Best Picture this year? (You can read the nominations in the Q&A.)
  2. Should an actor’s sexuality matter when casting a part — gay or straight?

Activities

  1. Write a review of the best film you have seen in the last 12 months. Explain why you think it should win an award.
  2. Write the first scene of your own film or TV show starring an LGBT character.

Some People Say...

“We shouldn’t be defined only by what we are.”

Ben Whishaw

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The 2019 Oscar nominations for Best Picture are Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther, The Favourite, Green Book, Vice, Roma, A Star Is Born and BlacKkKlansman. The list includes more well-known films than the last few years. Combined, they have made $1.2 billion at the box office, the highest amount since 2011. (That does not include figures for Netflix’s Roma.)
What do we not know?
Who will win! Roma is the bookies’ favourite for Best Picture, while Christian Bale and Glenn Close are leading the races for Best Actor and Actress in a Leading Role. However, the Oscars can be unpredictable. We also do not know how attitudes to sexuality in film will change over time. It was not so long ago that actors turned down gay roles out of fear that it would damage their reputation.

Word Watch

LGBT
Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (see below).
Two
Ian McKellen was nominated for lead actor in Gods and Monsters in 1999. More controversially, gay actor Jaye Davidson was nominated for playing a transgender woman in The Crying Game in 1993.
Transgender
Someone who identifies as a gender that is different to the one they are assigned at birth. In this case, the character Dante “Tex” Gill was a transgender man who was born in a female body.
Pigeonholed
Typecasted, or only ever cast in certain types of roles (such as gay roles).
The Elephant Man
An upcoming BBC drama about Joseph Merrick, a Victorian English man with facial deformities. Merrick became known as the “Elephant Man” when he took part in a travelling freak show. It is still not known what caused his condition.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.