Geoffrey Macnab: Stars should be judged on their talent alone

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The Independent Online

The Equity survey makes depressing reading but it is hardly a surprise.

From Ramon Novarro to Rock Hudson; from Ivor Novello in the 1920s to Dirk Bogarde in the 1950s, there are many examples of actors who have kept their sexuality secret from their fans. They've known that to do otherwise would be to risk their careers.

In the heyday of the studio system, these actors had armies of "fixers" and publicists to ensure they were photographed with pretty young starlets or to plant stories about their (straight) love lives. There are clear double standards. The young US actress Evan Rachel Wood (Mildred Pierce and The Ides Of March) recently came out as bisexual. She said doing so didn't affect her career in the slightest. For a young male star; one who aspired to work in the mainstream, the reaction would have been very different. By 2012, you would have hoped, old homophobic prejudices should have long since melted away.

That prejudice doesn't seem to affect directors. Todd Haynes, Derek Jarman, Pedro Almodovar, Gregg Araki and Terence Davies are just some of the feted filmmakers of the last 25 years who've been openly gay.

But with actors, the story is very different. In spite of Ian McKellen, Rupert Everett and one or two others, the research makes it clear many still feel it is career suicide to be open about their sexuality to their agents. They fear they'll only be offered the most stereotypical roles.

Whose fault is this? Agents will argue that they are simply responding to the demands of the filmmakers who, in turn, will say they are second guessing what they feel to be the desires of their audiences. What all this overlooks is the fact that there should only really be one level at which actors should be judged – that of their performances.