oscar so straight

A look inside Hollywood’s shameful absence of LGBTQ leading men & women

 

Fans of diversity at the Oscars have plenty of reason to celebrate. In a striking contrast with the nominees of the past two years, 2017 set a new record for inclusion. For the first time, each major category featured a person of color as a nominee, and in some cases, more than one. The Best Supporting Actress category featured an impressive three African-American nominees, including Naomie Harris, previous winner Octavia Spencer, and gay icon in the making Viola Davis.

This new level of inclusion extends beyond just African-Americans as well; the Indian Dev Patel picked up a Best Supporting Actor nomination, while rising Latino star Lin-Manuel Miranda took a nomination for Best Song. Much of this year’s diversity comes from the success of one film in particular—Moonlight, the story of a gay, African-American man growing up in Miami. And it could not have come at a better time with an unhinged “president” afflicting minorities of all sorts, in all sorts of ways.

But where does our community stand in terms of inclusion? Contrary to the claim of Oscar-winning musician Sam Smith in 2016, plenty of gay men have won Academy Awards. That said, acknowledging past queer winners and nominees becomes tricky. Laurence Olivier, George Bernard Shaw and Charles Laughton all took home Oscars, though none could live as openly gay in their day. Indeed, the Academy Awards have always loved diversity in more technical and behind the scenes roles, with the community racking up dozens of Oscars and nominations in categories like writing, directing and art direction. People have color have done better there, too, though that Barry Jenkins’ double nomination as the writer/director of Moonlight marks the first time since 1992 that an African-American has scored both says a lot.

Thus, the real diversity challenge at the Oscars becomes evident. It’s not that the Academy has a problem with queer artists; rather, it has a problem with out gay artists–particularly in front of the camera. While openly gay men like Bill Condon (writer of Gods and Monsters), Dustin Lance Black (writer, Milk) or Elton John have all taken home the statue, and while other out-and-proud cinephiles (Scott Rudin, producer of The Hours, Lee Daniels, director of Precious) have scored nominations, few actors could say the same.

While queer actors have won Oscars, only one openly gay actor has won an Academy Award: Linda Hunt. While the bisexual Angelina Jolie also has Oscar gold, the world tends to think of her as Hollywood’s first humanitarian mom, rather than the sexually fluid woman of her youth. Twice-winner Jodie Foster, while never denying her lesbianism, never made any public acknowledgement of her sexual orientation before her wins. Ian McKellen has also come close with two nominations to his name, though while tipped to win both times, he has yet to take Oscar home. Though Hollywood loves to award straight actors who play gay (Tom Hanks), lesbian (Charlize Theron), bisexual (Nicole Kidman) or transgendered (Hillary Swank) characters, recognizing queer actors for real-life achievements still makes tinsel town uncomfortable. Moreover, that only one said example—Daniels—is a person of color, further speaks to Hollywood’s issues with racial diversity.

Systemic Issues?

Where are the out gay actors? In general, women tend to have a bit of an easier time scoring big parts. Lesbians like Foster, Jolie, Ellen Page, Kate McKinnon and Ruby Rose all work often, and in a variety of roles. Out gay men have it much harder, particularly when it comes to leading parts. Rupert Everett, Zachary Quinto, and Matt Bomer all continue to work in film, though usually in supporting roles. That Quinto and Bomer, along with out actors Jim Parsons, Neil Patrick Harris, Luke Evans and Nathan Lane have all fared far better on television should also raise eyebrows. With the announcement of the GLAAD awards on January 31 including only two wide-release film nominees (one, Star Trek Beyond, had little queer content beyond an ambiguous hug) scored nominations, while comedy and drama TV series had ten contenders each.

Given the popularity and much broader success of gay performers on TV, the dearth of out leading actors in film becomes all the more questionable. While the industry often blames a resistance from the audience, the success of television performers suggests that viewers have no problem with gay actors in leading roles. The real problem, then, rests elsewhere. Part of the long-running issue with racial diversity and the Oscars has less to do with voter attitudes than with a lack of good roles for people of minority races.

With the queer community, the case is a bit different; it’s not that there aren’t parts for gay actors. Rather, Hollywood seems opposed to casting gay actors at all. For those of us that live and work “in town,” whispers about sexuality fuel a nonstop rumor mill. For that matter, so do the cautions against gay actors: sex scenes are fine, but never have a same-sex kiss (Hollywood considers the former “brave,” and the latter icky) .Avoid playing physical stereotypes like the butch lesbian or effeminate gay guy. Beware an actual coming out–casting directors will only cast gay actors as gay characters, and getting an agent will become even harder. The uber-macho and often sociopathic agents, managers and lawyers who to this day have open disdain for queer artists, often will accept them only begrudgingly as clients, it at all. Studios too might shoulder some of the blame, though the number of openly gay executives working in Hollywood would make such an assumption somewhat counterintuitive.

All the out-gay-successful performers chronicled here share another unnerving similarity—they’re all white. To come full circle on racial diversity, where are the out people of color—African-Americans, Latinos and especially Asians—in front of the cameras? Common sense recognizes that queer people of color exist in real life, so why do so few characters in the movies reflect as much? Movies love to cast gay characters as the best friend or as comic relief. Why can’t queer men and women kick ass in action pictures, or find love in mainstream romantic comedies?

The problem of Hollywood diversity, both in terms of race and in terms of sexuality & gender, extends far beyond Oscar recognition. Like other issues of race and homophobia in America, the lack of inclusion comes from systemic prejudice, and from a bigoted power class bent blocking progress for the sake of their own self-satisfaction. The lack of queer people of color, too, might have roots in the views on sexuality and gender within those racial communities—the way African-Americans, Latinos or Asians view LGBT folk within their own populations. Both the racial civil rights and LGBT movements have affirmed the same solution to both issues: courage and leadership. Only through trailblazing leaders, unafraid to suffer the wounds of standing on the front lines can progress come to fruition. It will take queer leaders from the African-American, Latino and Asian communities to help broaden the still-myopic view that only white, queer actors, or white, queer characters belong in the movies.

The success of the film Moonlight hints that perhaps those walls have begun to crumble, though even if true, tinsel town still has a long road to sojourn. Hollywood loves to put forward the image of celebrated diversity with award-bait movies.

The lack of openly gay performers in the movies, though, suggests real inclusion is little more than movie make-believe.

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23 Comments

  • davidkohl

    In my opinion the problem lies with the fact that the ‘Oscars’ are so American in every way – and that includes in its institutional racism sexism and homophobia. There are plenty of British and other European gay and lesbian actors who are worthy of winning an Oscar – the article gives several examples. Those same gay people who are snubbed by the Academy are very often highly honoured in their own countries. If you look at the make up of the Academies voters you will find that they are mostly old white men who are probably still yearning for the 1950’s to reappear. This state of affairs was already noted in the past two years over the exclusion of people of colour. It is often the case that people who are racists are usually also sexist and homophobic. The Academy has to be cleared of these ghastly people and made more representative of the real make up of society.

  • DCguy

    People routinely have said in interviews that Hollywood is bigoted against LGBTs. In ANY other business or industry the California AG would have investigated when so many people have publicly stated that. So how about a nice investigation into agencies, P.R. companies and studios?

    Oh, and get ready for the Log cabin trolls to come in here and talk about how studios don’t have gay leading men because gays are too (Insert anti-lgbt stereotype here).

    • Realitycheck

      The upcoming Flash blockbuster from Warner is going to have a gay or Queer actor has he defines himself in the main role, now look back at 50 years ago and see how far did we come.
      I love Moonlight and get bashed every time I say that, great movie with a gay story that goes beyond race and frankly even beyond gay, but it is a limited audience movie because???
      I see a victory as we move toward acceptance but to get there today old people need to be replaced by new older people that grew up under a different set of social values.

    • mhoffman953

      @DCguy I don’t think Hollywood should add characters to movies or TV just for the sake of being “progressive”. It should only be done if there is a point to the story.

      With that being said, Hollywood is one of the most bigoted and hypocritical places on the planet. They’ll preach one thing but then do the exact opposite. Not just in their treatment of gays but even with the decades old rumors of casting couches and the dark side of Hollywood.

      None of that will ever be investigated unfortunately

  • PRINCE OF SNARKNESS aka DIVKID

    George Bernard Shaw???? And Olivier is at best wildly unsubstantiated rumour

    • PRINCE OF SNARKNESS aka DIVKID

      And in any case (notwithstanding dubious Kaye rumours) Olivier could not conceivably be classified as “gay” …I think perhaps you’re “problematically” avoiding another word? How triggering

    • PRINCE OF SNARKNESS aka DIVKID

      Just to add: Laughton is listed as Bisexual on Wikipedia — which may not be the absolute gold standard in research but ill trust it over your amazing fact checking which gave us the gay George Bernard Shaw

    • davidkohl

      ‘Bi-sexual’ was often – and still is – used to replace homosexual or gay. I myself have known many men who have described themselves as bi-sexual yet have only ever had sex with men. The marriage of Laughton to Lanchester was, even at the time, well known as one of convenience.

  • PRINCE OF SNARKNESS aka DIVKID

    If Milo in full drag replete with anal sex joked could (formerly) carry a room of right wingers including some of the fluffier nazi adjacents and still command their respect believing in the viability of an openly gay leading man is not such a stretch. The said actor needs to be twice as masculine and badass than his competitors tho, as well as exceptionally handsome. That actor doesn’t yet exist.

    • PRINCE OF SNARKNESS aka DIVKID

      @davidkohl
      You can’t see into other men’s souls. It is mere conjecture on yours and others’ parts. By the way it’s “bisexual” not bi-sexual — just a heads up as some of em find that offensive. :)

    • davidkohl

      Bisexual in your country perhaps – we speak and write English here. :-) And I never claimed to be able to see the souls of others – mainly because we don’t have souls. I said i knew many men who never had sex or relationships with women who claimed to be bi-sexual, or for you, bisexual. In my time I have read 3 biographies of Charles Laughton – when I was young he fascinated me – all 3 spend time on his marriage to Lanchester. There is no speculation or conjecture as far as Laughton goes. None of which is really important I guess, but it passes the time.

    • davidjohng

      Rock Hudson was that actor. And while not OUT (out of necessity at that time) till the very end of his life in the late 1980s he had all of those qualities naturally that leading male stars are required to have. As long as he maintained his str8 identity publically the public thought of him as that very masculine, very handsome rugged man. The irony is that he WAS that man naturally AND was gay. The public consciousness couldn’t accept a gay man who didn’t fit the stereotype of what a gay man was supposed to be in their mind…effeminate, soft, immoral and perverted.

  • Herman75

    We can all agree that the red carpet will be packed with gushing qweenz later today, bugging their eyes out at all the fashion statements, whether spectacular or scary.

    • Herman75

      …because that’s the role that corporate entertainment is so damn comfortable seeing us in.
      So giving actors like Matt Bomer a critical dramatic role is often not on their radar.

  • PRINCE OF SNARKNESS aka DIVKID

    Reposting with edits

    If Milo in full drag replete with anal sex jokes could (formerly) carry a room full of right wingers including some of the fluffier nazi adjacents and still command their respect, believing in the viability of an openly gay leading man is not such a stretch. The said actor would need to be twice as masculine and badass than his competitors as well as exceptionally handsome. That actor doesn’t yet exist.

    10 minutes ago Reply

  • Persa

    Luke Evans has made only 2 television shows. Not only is he out and gay and has been from before he became a blockbuster film star, he is a leading many in 5 films. I agree with most of what you’ve written but Luke Evans is definitely the exception . He has spoken openly about being gay and despite attempts by the media and pr people to try to closet him, he had never denied being gay. I think specifically because he is British, he has a bit more freedom than would an American actor going for similar roles.

    • davidkohl

      Precisely. Making my first point about this being an American issue. Other countries have no problems with giving proper roles to gay actors but for some strange reason ‘Hollywood’ is still living in the 1950’s and still pretending that people will not accept lgbt actors or stories. The fact that there are large sections of the USA where discrimination towards lgbt people/issues is still acceptable should not prevent the movie studios and television companies from trying to lead opinion towards embracing diversity. At the moment this will be difficult as the people who are supposed to reign in the bullies ( the government) are in fact the bullies themselves. Of all the so called liberal-democracies in the ‘West’, the USA is by far the most discriminatory in all categories.

    • davidkohl

      Good point Jason_Melvil. The problem in using the expression ‘affirmative action’ is that the right wing reprehensibles have managed to demonise it. Quite frankly it is shocking that any modern liberal country should need affirmative action in the first place as it shows the depth of discrimination pervading that country. But we have to deal with the real situation – complaining about it has not made any difference as we can see by the example from Jason. Maybe affirmative action can’t work now, but neither can the continued discrimination just be swept under the carpet by the discrimination supporters. In the case of the ‘Oscars’ for example the whole voting procedure and eligibility to vote can be overhauled to reflect the real world. Boycotts of guilty companies works very well too. The lgbt world is a rich one – hit the discriminators where it hurts, in their profits.

  • Neonegro

    Blacks and Gays both suffer from the same false sense of importance.

    The society is majority white and straight and that should be reflected in the movies.

    Yes there will be minorities in the movies and movies about minorities, but to expect full representation every year is nonsense.

    What’s next? Affirmative action in the arts? why not in sports????

    • davidkohl

      The ‘white’ population of the USA is 63% of the total according to the US census bureau ( this by the way is what is called ‘research’ ) – a majority that declines year on year. By any standard that is not an overwhelming majority. Are 37% of the movies made, tv programmes made, officials elected and so on reflecting that? No. Again according to Census Bureau gender distribution for the total population is evenly divided. Yet again, is this reflected in the political and social institutions? Again no. It is difficult to give exact figures for that part of the population which is not heterosexual – the lgbt group. The best estimates are that this accounts for between 5 and 12 % of the population. How many movies does ‘Hollywood’ make which reflect the lives and loves and experiences of this group? Zero. Oh but I forgot ‘Brokeback Mountain’ – a sanitised movie that was acceptable to the masses.
      Just because you are part of a majority does not give you the right to emasculate and ignore those who are not. It is not ‘affirmative action’ in the sense you mean it to expect that women, people of colour, lgbt people and any other minority group to have a fair representation and access to what you American like to call ‘The American Dream’. Currently that dream is limited to white men – especially old white men – and worse still, old white men who have severe personality disorders e.g The Odious Man in the White House.

    • jason_melvil

      This isn’t a question of affirmative action. The question isn’t even about having roles of gays in movies, but rather gay actors can’t even get straight roles in movies.

      Classic example here, Matt Bomber was originally meant to play Super-Man in Man of Steel, but he was dropped because they said they didn’t want a gay actor doing the role.

      What is wrong if the actor is gay?

    • Neonegro

      davidkohl, actually the white population is 73%. Hispanic/Latino is not a race…so many Hispanics are white.

      It’s not the responsibility of the majority to create art that reflects others. It is up to blacks and gays and other minorities to create their own artistic work.

      Moonlight is a perfect example of what I am talking about.

  • Kangol

    CONGRATULATIONS TO MOONLIGHT!!! It won the 2017 Academy Award Best Picture!!! That’s quite an achievement (even if Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway momentarily messed up and wrongly gave La La Land the award first)!

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