It’s been almost a year since Ramin Setoodeh published an essay in Newsweek declaring that openly gay actors can’t convincingly pull off the sexual orientation that’s so foreign to them. But just when the dust was settling on the furious hubbub, which included a call for a Newsweek boycott from Glee creator Ryan Murphy and writers denouncing the article in every corner of the blogosphere, Setoodeh decided to fire up the issue again, this time in The Daily Beast.
In the new article, Setoodeh changes his tune a bit, cutting out most of the cringingly homophobic remarks and getting to the root of the issue: the lack of gays in the entertainment industry. He writes,
It’s not just that audiences don’t often see openly gay actors in straight roles. What’s even more unsettling is that Hollywood doesn’t even allow gay actors to play gay. … Movies need to attract the broadest possible audience, and filmmakers worry that if they cast a gay person as a romantic lead, audiences will be too grossed out. Instead, straight actors get the roles, and everybody talks about how brave they are. … Society still shows a prejudice against gay people, especially those who fit the stereotype: feminine men and masculine women.
He cites heterosexual stars like Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey in I Love You, Phillip Morris and Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right as straight actors awarded meaty homosexual roles over gay actors.
The writer’s criticisms of Hollywood as an overly conservative climate that’s hesitant to cast gay people are targeted almost exclusively at the film industry. And while I can’t think of too many high-profile films featuring gay actors playing gay or straight characters (unless we’re including Kevin Spacey), there’s a long list of gays and lesbians finding successful work in the television industry. The gay Chris Colfer is blazing a trail as gay teen Kurt on Glee. Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s a dad in a committed homo relationship on Modern Family. Cynthia Nixon did the hetero thing for years on Sex and the City. And gay actors Portia de Rossi (Better Off Ted, Arrested Development), Cherry Jones (24), Jane Lynch (Glee), Cheyenne Jackson (30 Rock), Matthew Bomer (White Collar) and Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) all handle opposite-sex attraction just fine on their shows.
Setoodeh has acknowledged and dismissed some of that long list of “exceptions” before, most notably regarding Neil Patrick Harris, a gay man playing a heterosexual womanizer on How I Met Your Mother, on Joy Behar’s CNN Headline News show last May.
[Harris] was playing that role as a straight man, [and] we came to accept him as a straight man. On top of that it’s a TV character, it’s not a movie character, and it’s also a caricature. … It’s [an] over-the-top, funny, humorous character. It’s not a romantic lead where women, like, actually are supposed to believe him as a heterosexual character.
But that doesn’t explain the dozens of other gay actors in supporting and leading roles on television (hell, it’s hardly a logical explanation for Harris’ success). And it’s definitely a question worth exploring: Are Hollywood creatives more likely to cast gay actors on television shows as opposed to in movies? And why would that be the case? Does advice from the likes of Richard Chamberlain and Rupert Everett for actors to stay in the closet to protect their careers only apply to film stars? And maybe most importantly, when will the silver screen take a cue from the small screen and start proving Setoodeh wrong?