Monday, May 17, 2010

Newsweek on the Defensive

Sometimes you get so used to subtle and not so subtle homophobia that you begin doubting yourself when you think you see it.  This happened to me last week when I read a Newsweek column that in essence said that a gay man like Sean Hayes shouldn't play the hetero lead in the rival of the musical Promises, Promises.

I shrugged off my irritation, until I started reading the blogs and realized I wasn't the only one who picked up on the homophobia.   Many LGBT publications and organizations are now asking for an apology from Newsweek.

I've been thinking that at first I probably just chalked up the article to what I have learned over the years about LGBT people in film. If you are straight and play a gay, you get lauded and nominated (or even win) the Oscar.  I guess playing gay is that much a stretch.  If you are gay, you aren't allowed to play a straight in Hollywood.

Here are some examples of straight actors who have won or been nominated for playing LGBT over the last 35 years or so.  Many of these performances were brilliant (Heath Ledger and Sean Penn come to mind), but it still doesn't negate the prejudice against gay actors in the movies.

Oscar Wins:

William Hurt in The Kiss of the Spider Woman
Tom Hanks in Philadelphia
Charlize Theron in Monster
Peter Finch in Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sean Penn in Milk
Hillary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry
Nicole Kidman in The Hours
Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote 

Oscar Nominees 

Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain
Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain
Bruce Davidson in Longtime Companion
Felicity Huffman in Transamerica
Cher in Silkwood
Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon
Chris Sarandon in Dog Day Afternoon
Greg Kinnear in As Good as It Gets
Ed Harris in The Hours
Julianna Moore in The Hours
Javier Bardem in Before Night Falls
Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal
Colin Firth in A Single Man 

There may be more; these are the ones I came up with and verified.  Compare this list to the out LGBT actors who have been nominated or won.  (I haven't included actors such as Jodie Foster, since she was in the closet when she was cast and won.  She was certainly perceived as straight during that time.  It's interesting, however, to count how many movies she's made since she came out.  My total is zero.)

The LGBT List of Oscar Winners and Nominees:

Ian McLellan in Gods and Monsters (nominated for Oscar)

That's it.  It's all I can remember.  And he played a gay man in this movie.  We could possibly add Nigel Hawthorne who was nominated for The Madness of King George, although I'm not sure everyone would agree that he was "out."  In any case, both are British actors, so not one gay American actor made the list, at least to my knowledge.

Here's hoping that the Newsweek article will bring attention to what happens to LGBT actors in Hollywood, and the double standard of how straight actors can play gay and be lauded for it, while LGBT actors rarely get a chance to play straight.

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