Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Newsweek and the debate about gay actors playing straight

Right after I wrote a piece praising Newsweek and looking at the decline of print journalism I saw the story that has lit up the blogosphere about whether the issue of gay actors playing straight characters. This piece appeared as an online exclusive on April 26th and has received much attention, especially after actress Kristin Chenoweth defended her co-star Sean Hayes (who the article referred to) and denounced the article which was written by Ramin Setoodeh  on Friday 7th. What comes as a surprise is that the author of this article is himself a gay man and that the writing seems to be homophobic in suggesting that a straight man can easily play a gay man but when it comes to a gay person playing straight he believes that so far there have been no credible cases.The main argument from Setoodeh article (which is entitled 'Straight Jacket') regarding Hayes is that his character plays "like he's trying to hide something, which of course he is". This assumption that because of his real life sexual orientation he cannot play straight and make an audience believe it seems utterly preposterous, I can name many examples of other actors and incidents in their real lives that don't distract me from their performance, one would be the recent stories of David Boreanaz's infidelity which don't then make me think that his character in Bones is a cheat as well, as a viewer I can distinguish between the real world and the fictitious world and I'm sure that most other people can as well. There are probably some that this might be an issue for but really in the 21st Century should we be playing to the mind set of the bigoted? In her reply to this article Chenoweth succinctly wrote that
 "Audiences aren't giving a darn about who a person is sleeping with or his personal life. Give me a break! We're actors first, whether we're playing prostitutes, baseball players or the Lion King."
Another incredulous point in this article is that the examples he gives of gay actors who play straight characters is that they playing broad caricatures and so don't seem to matter in this debate, here he is talking about Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and Portia de Rossi (Arrested Development, Better Off Ted). This point is absurd because even though these characters are part of comedy shows and some of their actions and storylines could be considered exaggerations their portrayals deserve to be counted (the writer counters with the examples of Up in the Air and The Proposal as such solid non-caricature portrayals, think of that what you will). Surely one of Barney's main attributes is his womanising and at no point do I ever think that his actions aren't believable. In this argument does he think that Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf or Magneto doesn't count as believable because they are characters who are in the realm of science fiction and fantasy?

There are many other examples of openly gay actors playing straight parts in film, television and on the stage and surely the issue should not be about whether some one is gay or straight as to whether they can play a role, but it should be about the quality of the acting, surely that is the benchmark. Maybe Setoodah just thought that Hayes' performance was bad and just decided to make it a question of sexuality rather than just acting. This antiquated idea of openly gay actors having trouble convincing an audience that they can play straight may be a reason why there are supposedly so many actors still in the closet and articles like this one really do not help with the idea that they can come out and be comfortable with their sexuality and who they are which in 2010 seems like such a ridiculous idea but really still is an issue. I will leave it Krisitn Chenoweth to sum this up:
"Lastly, as someone who's been proudly advocating for equal rights and supporting GLBT causes for as long as I can remember, I know how much it means to young people struggling with their sexuality to see out & proud actors like Sean Hayes, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris and Cynthia Nixon succeeding in their work without having to keep their sexuality a secret. No one needs to see a bigoted, factually inaccurate article that tells people who deviate from heterosexual norms that they can't be open about who they are and still achieve their dreams. I am told on good authority that Mr. Setoodeh is a gay man himself and I would hope, as the author of this article, he would at least understand that. I encourage Newsweek to embrace stories which promote acceptance, love, unity and singing and dancing for all!"


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