Gay and bisexual actors aren’t getting a fair shot at playing LGBT+ roles made famous by their straight counterparts, industry insiders said ahead of Sunday’s Oscars ceremony.
This year’s awards have seen both praise for the number LGBT-inclusive films short-listed, and criticism over the number of heterosexual actors nominated for playing gay or bisexual characters.
Some argue that filmmakers should actively look for LGBT+ actors for such roles, saying they can bring a deeper understanding of the characters.
“I think straight people can play gay and gay people can play straight – I think that’s entirely possible. I just don’t find it creatively advantageous”, screenwriter and filmmaker, Dustin Lance Black, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.
This year marks a decade since he won a best original screenplay Oscar for the 2008 film, Milk, a biographical account of LGBT+ politician Harvey Milk.
“Particularly with minority representation, you would be better served creatively if you have someone in that role who really understands the nuance of that role, perhaps from a very personal perspective”, he added.
“They are still going to have to act, they are not playing themselves, but they are bringing a lifetime of authentic experiences to that role”.
This year’s Oscars have seen a record number of films with LGBT+ storylines short-listed for awards, according to advocacy group, GLAAD.
They include the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic of bisexual Queen singer, Freddie Mercury, and The Favourite, which shows Queen Anne in a love triangle, with two female consorts vying for her favour.
The nominations “reflect a banner year for LGBTQ inclusion in film” and show that organisers “are rightfully prioritizing diverse storytelling”, said GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis.
They reflect a changing culture, with studios and filmmakers recognising that young viewers want to see a wider variety of stories, said Lance Black.
“The new audiences, the young audiences that are so valuable to studios and networks, all know someone who’s LGBT or Q”, he said.
“So if you exclude them from your script your projects are going to feel dusty, antiquated and dishonest”.
British actor, Ben Whishaw, recently addressed the issue, saying actors could play any role, but he would like to see “greater equality” in casting.
“I would like to see more gay actors playing straight roles… It should be an even playing field for everybody”, he told a reporter backstage at the Golden Globes last month.
Meanwhile, Doctor Who star, Matt Smith, said actors’ backgrounds should not be a factor in choosing roles, as he defended himself against criticism for playing the gay character, Robert Mapplethorpe, in a biopic.
“To me, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight”, he said, according to Vulture magazine. “That has no bearing on whether you should get the part”.
Minority communities were keen to see themselves represented on screen both in terms of storylines and the actors playing them, said David Martinez, a producer at the independent Raindance festival.
He suggested casting directors should try to find LGBT+ actors for LGBT+ characters, before opening up auditions to all.
“If they just go to the obvious heterosexual actors to play the role, and they don’t give the opportunity to actors who are LGBT, that’s where the problem is”, he said.
-Sonia Elks @soniaelks, Thomson Reuters Foundation