Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Hollywood's gay panic

In his celebrated alternative history of Hollywood, The Celluloid Closet, film writer Vito Russo addressed the film industry's love-hate relationship with all things gay. Originally published in 1981 (and made into a great documentary in 1996) the book and its subsequent adaptation looked at portrayals of gay men and lesbians, both on and off-screen. Without wanting to spoil the ending for you, Hollywood doesn't come off too well.

Two decades later and visibility is no longer as much of an issue. Milk, Brokeback Mountain and this year's A Single Man have all been lauded by the film-making establishment for their sympathetic and unflinching portrayal of gay life. But it's telling that all three (and the hundreds of other gay-themed movies that have been released in the intervening years) all boast heterosexual actors in the lead roles.

Oscar nominee, and one-time wet t-shirt favourite Colin Firth is only too aware of this issue. Speaking about his Oscar nod for his role in Tom Ford's A Single Man, the debonair Darcy named himself as part of what he considers to be 'the gay problem'.

Speaking to reporters at the film's UK premiere, he commented "If you're known as a straight guy, playing a gay role, you get rewarded for that. If you're a gay man and you want to play a straight role, you don't get cast... I think it needs to be addressed and I feel complicit in the problem. I don't mean to be. I think we should all be allowed to play whoever."

It's a sad fact that any young actor striving for the A-list has to play the gay game (and I don't mean Twister). This means that they can take on a gay role if there's acclaim to be had, but need to make sure that they distance themselves from all the homo stuff the moment they finish the take. Otherwise, there's a danger that they might look a little too light in their Gucci loafers.

So someone might need to have a word with Robert Pattinson, currently one of the world's hottest young talents despite looking like a badly put-together eye-witness photofit. Taking part in a recent photoshoot for Details magazine, alongside a bevy of naked female models, RPattz told the journalist "I really hate vaginas. I'm allergic to vagina. But I can't say I had no idea, because it was a 12-hour shoot, so you kind of get the picture that these women are going to stay naked after, like, five or six hours."

Despite the rumours of an on-set romance with Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart, Robert may well be tagged with the vagina-allergic label for some time.

Interestingly, a third British actor has also been experimenting with man-love recently, although its far from his first time. Ewan McGregor has a refreshingly open-minded approach to peen, probably on account of the fact that he gets his own out so often it even appears in his passport photos.

Ever since he made Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book, Ewan's sporran has notched up more on-screen appearances than most B-list actors, and runs a close second to the thistle as Scotland's most recognisable icon. The saucy Scot is currently appearing in 'I Love You Phillip Morris' in which he falls for Jim Carrey, and is quite happy to mix it up with the boys.

Unlike the actors who tackle a gay role to show versatility, dubiously equating their choice with their willingness to play a murderer or rapist, Ewan is far less calculating: "I'm always interested in playing different people, in different situations. It doesn't matter to me whether someone is in love with a man or a woman. I find the idea of love and romance interesting. I'm a sucker for it."

Whether or not actors like Colin and Ewan are part of the problem or the solution remains to be seen. But until gay actors feel confident enough to be themselves when playing other people, I guess we'll never know.

Still, it's interesting that their reticence is based on a fear that they'll be typecast in gay roles and will be unable to convince as heterosexuals. If they can spend most of their lives convincing people they're straight, it shouldn't be too much of stretch to do it on film. Besides, no-one complained about Brad Pitt romancing Cate Blanchett in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on the grounds that they knew he was with Angelina Jolie in real life...

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