self-love award show season kicked off this past weekend with a troublesome Golden Globes. Despite Oprah’s much talked about historic Cecil B. DeMille Award (she was the first black woman ever to receive it,) the Hollywood Foreign Press Association saw to fit to ignore gender inclusion in choosing it’s all male lineup of Best Director nominees, pointedly ignoring some amazing efforts from such female directors as Patty Jenkins, Greta Gerwig, and Dee Rees. It’s a noticeable gaffe, given the recent attention on many of the women who’ve had to suffer at the hands of Hollywood’s handsy male elite over the years.
To call out the obvious lip service that the entertainment industry pays to its desperate need for more representative inclusion seems redundant, and yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
When it comes to inclusion, though, incidents like this are only the tip of the iceberg. You see, Hollywood still has a homophobia problem.
Armie Hammer and Thimothée Chalamet, two of the actors nominated for Golden Globes this year, were both chosen for their much-lauded performances as gay men in the critically acclaimed feature from gay director Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name. Both actors are straight.
When asked by the Hollywood Reporter why he didn’t cast openly gay actors in the role, Guadagnino danced around the answer as only an artiste can:
“I couldn’t have ever thought of casting with any sort of gender agenda,” he said. “I think people are so beautiful and complex as creatures that… I prefer much more never to investigate or label my performers in any way.”
But, despite his cry for artistic freedom (and a casual but unexplained reference to Judith Butler buried in his quote,) his actions have an agenda, intended or not. The film was written and directed by queer folks, and adapted from a queer story by a queer author. Casting gay actors for those roles would’ve been the icing on an already queer cake. Instead, two more actors have joined a long, and growing, list of straight, cisgender folks playing it queer. Should either of them receive an Oscar nod, they will also join a list of more than 50 non-queer folks nominated for playing queer roles.
Of course, Hammer and (especially) Chalamet were good in their roles. As was Trevante Rhodes in Moonlight. As were Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright. But the questions remains: Aren’t queer people as important as the stories that Hollywood tells about us?
It’s great that you like our stories, Hollywood. In fact, you should like them even more. According to a 2016 USC report, of the 414 films and series and more than 11,000 speaking characters included in the study, only 2% of the speaking roles were queer. That’s a little over 200, out of 11,000, in case you don’t want to do the math. Given that queer people are conservatively estimated to represent 4% of the general population, we should be due at least another couple hundred parts in those scripts.
This dearth of opportunities to tell our own stories, though, should then set Guadagnino’s lack of agenda in a new light. Out of the 4 million some gay men in the United States, there weren’t even 2 that could’ve played those roles as well, if not better?
The desire to live in an artistic environment without the bounds of a political agenda can be a strong one, of course. As an artist, you want to say what you want to say. But, whether or not you have an agenda as an artist, you still have one. No work of art exists in a vacuum, and context is everything. Every time a young queer person watches Jack and Ennis awkwardly consummating their love for one another, it’ll still be straight actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in that tent. Every time a young trans girl watches the onscreen metamorphosis of Lili Elbe, it’ll still be cismale actor Eddie Redmayne under that wig.
Casting decisions like those have a lasting legacy – one that says, among other things, that we, as queer people, aren’t important enough to play our own roles. That needs to change. After all, it was long ago once considered taboo by many cultures for women to play the roles of women onstage. Just like that’s changed, this needs to change, too.