When it comes to Hollywood, we have gotten some representation for the LGBTQIA+ community, however, these roles are often given to already well-known, straight actors, instead of those that are actually LGBTQ+.
While recognition is good, people from the community itself need to play these roles to not only tell these stories but make sure they are told right and the community feels authentically represented.
Heterosexual people playing LGBTQ+ characters in movies or series can lead to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. People have different aesthetics and ways of expressing themselves; they can’t fit into a certain box. While this might be clear to someone who has experienced the struggle of not being perceived as “queer enough,” a straight actor may be unaware of the implications of their depiction.
Furthermore, it’s not as if there is a lack of LGBTQ+ folks in the industry, they are simply not getting these protagonist roles. A clear example of this would be “Love, Simon.” While the movie had a gay director, many LGBTQ+ consultants, and a few queer actors in secondary roles, the protagonist was played by Nick Robinson, a cisgender heterosexual man. With all this effort to provide representation to queer youth, why couldn’t the leading roles be played by openly gay actors as well?
Clark Moore—who played Ethan, the openly gay character in “Love, Simon”—identifies with his role because he too was the only out gay person in his high school. Moore can relate to his character on a deeper level while Robinson just can’t.
There are plenty of mixed opinions and perspectives when it comes to this debate. Some actors, such as Darren Criss, feel like they don’t want to take away the opportunity from other actors who are a part of the community. Criss was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor in a TV miniseries Golden Globe award and stated he would “no longer play LGBTQ+ characters,” as Criss isn’t a gay man himself. Criss wants to ensure that he isn’t just another “straight boy taking a gay man’s role.”
On the other hand, Ben Whishaw, an openly gay man, stated that “actors can embody and portray anything,” and there isn’t a requirement for actors to be the orientation of the character they play. Whishaw even went on to say while it isn’t necessary, he does suggest that more straight roles should be given to gay actors in order to have “an even playing field for everybody.”
While I understand Whishaw’s point, I do think it is important to have actors who identify with the LGBTQ+ community playing the roles of LGBTQ+ characters. “Love, Simon” had the potential to represent a greater stepping stone in advocating for the importance of having a gay actor play the leading role, but it is something all movies and shows should strive for in the future. While Criss has set an example of acknowledging his privilege in advocating for LGBTQ+ actors, directors should also hold themselves accountable when casting LGBTQ+ roles. We are in an era that advocates for change, and I’m hoping in the near future that this can be accomplished.