News broke Monday that the first openly gay character in a Disney film would be played by the very-not-gay actor Jack Whitehall. The outrage mob quickly gathered online to voice their displeasure:
If you’re one of the people who ‘doesn’t see the big deal’ RE Jack Whitehall, a straight white male cast as the first openly gay Disney character then you’re part of the problem 💁🏼♀️
— Clí 🇵🇸 🇺🇦 (@ClionaLou) August 13, 2018
Such a dam shame it’s so hard to find gay actors to play gay roles in hollywood 🙄. Do better @disney @jackwhitehall https://t.co/QUQ3qbb8NZ
— Chris Salvatore (@CSalvatore) August 12, 2018
Really @Disney #JungleCruise ? Your first significant gay role will be played by a straight white man perpetuating stereotypes? Fail! This ship should sink. https://t.co/npPESNZaxD
— Omar Sharif Jr. (@OmarSharifJr) August 13, 2018
Super excited about this huge moment for the LGBTQ+ family, and @jackwhitehall is amazing https://t.co/FwH4d7BZqZ BUT when so many gay actor friends of mine are turned down for straight roles because there’s a “whiff of gay”, it’s frustrating to cast NonGay people in gay roles
— James Barr (@imjamesbarr) August 13, 2018
why is jack whitehall playing disney's first openly gay character? https://t.co/xI2xCFc4U3 pic.twitter.com/lNpxImw8uF
— i-D (@i_D) August 13, 2018
The woke left makes an excellent point here: how is it possible that in 2018 Hollywood — recognized as the preeminent progressive institution in American culture — cannot find gay actors to play gay characters? If we cannot count Disney as an LGBTQIA ally, who can we count on?
This is a simple request. With proper representation now at the forefront of our entertainment conversations, Hollywood should not hire actors to “portray” a character trait as basic as one’s sexuality.
We just went through this with Scarlett Johansson’s whitewashing of an anime character in the film “Ghost in the Shell.” In the 1800s, white actors dressed in blackface to caricature African-Americans. It was appalling then, and it is just as appalling today, as heterosexual actors “pretend” to be gay in film roles.
America has overcome many civil rights issues in its history, but let’s not let the victories of yesteryear detract from the gravity of today: Fighting for gay actors portraying gay characters on the silver screen is the preeminent social justice issue of our time.
The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Societies progress for the better, but sometimes, when the line between right and wrong is drawn with such distinction, our past beliefs or choices cannot be excused. Straight-washing gay characters is one of those issues.
Lots of Other Actors Have ‘Splainin’ To Do
If Whitehall should be ashamed for accepting a role in a Disney film — and he should be very ashamed — then other straight enemies (note: opposite of allies) who portrayed gay people in film or TV before Whitehall should be held to the same standard. If there is any justice in this cruel, dark world, these famous actors and actresses will find the moral fortitude to publicly apologize as soon as possible.
I’m thinking of actors such as Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia,” Matt Damon in “Behind the Candelabra,” Jim Carrey in “I Love You Phillip Morris,” Michael Douglas in “Behind the Candelabra,” Jake Gyllenhaal in “Brokeback Mountain,” Charlize Theron in “Monster,” Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain,” Ewan McGregor in “I Love You Phillip Morris,” Sean Penn in “Milk,” Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote,” James Franco in “Howl,” Bradley Cooper in “Valentine’s Day,” Naomi Watts in “Mulholland Drive,” Meryl Streep in “The Hours,” Robert De Niro in “Stardust,” Robert Pattison in “Little Ashes,” Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Beautiful Laundrette,” Keanu Reeves in “My Own Private Idaho,” Will Smith in “Six Degrees of Separation,” Daniel Craig in “Infamous,” Eric Stonestreet in “Modern Family,” Paul Rudd in “The Object of My Affection,” Colin Firth in “A Single Man,” Robin Williams in “The Birdcage,” Christopher Plummer in “Beginners,” Ian Somerhalder in “The Rules of Attraction,” Tracy Morgan in “The Longest Yard,” Dennis Quaid in “Far From Heaven,” Josh Brolin in “Flirting with Disaster,” Chris Cooper in “American Beauty,” Greg Kinnear in “As Good as It Gets,” Jada Pinkett Smith in “The Women,” Emily Blunt in “The Summer of Love,” Chiwetel Ejiofor in “Kinky Boots,” Julianne Moore in “The Kids are Alright,” Jonathan Rhys Meyers in “Velvet Goldmine,” Joshua Jackson in “Cruel Intentions,” Michael C. Hall in “Six Feet Under,” Annette Bening in “The Kids are Alright,” Armie Hammer in “J. Edgar,” Heather Graham in “Gray Matters,” Macaulay Culkin in “Party Monster,” Seth Green in “Party Monster,” William Hurt in “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” River Phoenix in “My Own Private Idaho,” Cher in “Silkwood,” Richard Jenkins in “Flirting with Disaster,” Emile Hirsch in “Milk,” Hank Azaria in “The Birdcage,” Diego Luna in “Milk,” Michael K. Williams in “The Wire,” Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon,” Russell Crowe in “The Sum of Us,” Hugo Weaving in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” Ving Rhames in “Holiday Heart,” James Gandolfini in “The Mexican,” Javier Bardem in “Before Night Falls,” John Malkovich in “Colour Me Kubrick,” Woody Harrelson in “The Walker,” Peter Sarsgaard in “Kinsey,” Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo in “To Woo Fong Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar,” Colin Farrell in “A Home at the End of the World,” and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few others.
This Is Only a Start, of Course
But why stop there? If we’re making the reasonable cultural decision that sexuality, like race, is something actors cannot “portray” on screen, then LGBT thespians should also adhere to this rule. Gay actors should only ever portray gay characters. For them to do otherwise would be hypocritical. Like the actors mentioned above, anyone who has failed to adhere to this moral standard in the past should also apologize immediately.
I am thinking of actors and actresses such as Neil Patrick Harris in “How I Met Your Mother,” John Mahoney in “Frasier,” Jane Lynch in “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” Luke Evans in “Beauty and The Beast,” Jim Parsons in “The Big Bang Theory,” Sara Gilbert in “Roseanne,” Ricky Martin in “General Hospital,” David Hyde Pierce in “Frasier,” Sarah Paulson in “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Maria Bello in “A History of Violence,” Ellen Page in “Juno,” Wenworth Miller in “Prison Break,” Cynthia Nixon in “Sex in the City,” Alan Cumming in “The Anniversary Party,” T.R. Knight in “Grey’s Anatomy,” Jodie Foster in “Maverick,” Portia de Rossi in “Arrested Development,” Russell Tovey in “Being Human,” Meredith Baxtor in “Family Ties,” Lily Tomlin in “I Heart Huckabees,” Matt Bomer in “White Collar,” Jonathan Groff in “Glee,” Wanda Sykes in “Pootie Tang,” Guillermo Diaz in “Weeds,” Rosie O’Donnell in “A League of Their Own”, Denis O’Hare in “American Horror Story,” and again, I’m sure I’m forgetting others.
Nope, Still Not Far Enough
This actually has me thinking perhaps our culture’s new moral code is not expansive enough. If actors playing characters of different sexualities is offensive, then cis actors and actresses portraying trans characters has to be offensive to a far greater degree.
I am thinking of actors and actresses such as Elle Fanning in “3 Generations,” Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent,” Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl,” Matt Bomer in “Anything,” Hillary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica,” Chloe Sevigny in “Hit & Miss,” Rebecca Romijn in “Ugly Betty,” Michael Caine in “Dressed to Kill,” Sofia Vergara in “Grilled,” Raquel Welch in “Myra Breckenridge,” John Cameron Mitchell in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Chris Sarandon in “Dog Day Afternoon,” John Lithgow in “The World According to Garp,” Vanessa Redgrave in “Second Serve,” Jaye Davidson in “The Crying Game,” Sean Young in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” Cillian Murphy in “Breakfast on Pluto,” Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs,” Janet Mcteer in “Albert Nobbs,” Benedict Cumberbatch in “Zoolander 2,” Michelle Rodriguez in “The Assignment,” Victor Polster in “Girl,” and, man, I’m tired.
I’m actually just realizing something. This latest woke crusade, as morally just as it is, has too large of a guillotine. Under these rules, there are almost no actors or actresses left in Hollywood. Worse yet, the larger Hollywood community is complicit in perpetuating this moral injustice. In many of the cases above, these actors and actresses were nominated and won Emmys, Golden Globes, or Oscars for their portrayal of characters of the opposite sexuality.
If we continue down this road, if we choose to die on the hill of this fight, we risk a self-inflicted moral wound. We risk exposing the American public to the idea that Hollywood is insanely hypocritical and incapable of being the moral arbiter of our culture wars. We risk proving, once and for all, that intersectional politics is a long, winding arc that only bends toward individualism.
Perhaps, just to make it easier on all of us, we let this controversy pass on by and recognize that actors, regardless of their sexual orientation, are allowed to, well, you know, act.