Stop what you’re doing, pick up your virtual pitchfork and head to Twitter, please – Jack Whitehall has been cast as a gay man.
There you are, fingers speeding across keys – tones turned off, you’re not an animal – face contorted because it’s reported that the 30-year-old comedian will play a “fun, effete” young man in Disney’s new blockbuster The Jungle Cruise (I’ll wait until everyone’s got the cruising “jokes” out of their system). But wait – why are we angry?
That’s a question we’re probably asking ourselves every day, but in this particular case people are angry because Jack – despite my best attempts at flirting on social media – is straight. And straight people, apparently, shouldn’t play gay roles.
I can still very clearly recall a time when we, or should I say “we”, as in the LGBT+ community, didn’t want “fun, effete” people representing us on television – and these were actual, out gay men. We’re going back a few years – despite my attempts to remain like Peter Pan – to the likes of John Inman, Larry Grayson and even Julian Clary. All, I feel I must state for the record, are comedy legends and I’m delighted I grew up with them as role models. But funnily enough, at the same time, Gorden Kaye played a womanising bar owner in the ridiculously successful BBC comedy ’Allo ’Allo! In real life, he was gay. Couldn’t they find a masculine enough straight guy? It’s outrageous!
My tongue is firmly in cheek – steady! – of course. But it’s very much a sign of modern living that we’d decided to have a backlash before we’ve even seen a line of script, or a single second of filmed material. We’re outraged because now, for some reason, it’s the done thing to do.
I’m already confused over whether we’re supposed to be annoyed that Jack Whitehall is straight playing gay, straight playing gay playing camp or both. Jack Whitehall is, naturally, quite camp. And why shouldn’t he be? That’s not exclusive to gay men. Before any of that, don’t get me started on Disney’s “first ever gay character” – we all know there’s more queens than princesses in those cartoons...
There was already a ridiculous hoo-ha over a supposed “gay scene” in the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast. The way people overreacted – again ahead of seeing the scene – was nonsense. It ended up being two men dancing together. Sure, this was more progressive than Strictly Come Dancing has ever been, but it wasn’t exactly two leather queens boshing poppers and dancing to Cher. This is how all movies should end, though. (Again, I’m joking, before you take to Twitter).
I remember, way back when I was editor of a national gay magazine for almost 10 years, that actors would sometimes have reservations about playing gay roles – or sometimes agents might advise them not to, or to “not look gay” (?!) in photo shoots. Fortunately that really does seem to be a thing of the past. But by the time I spoke to Timotheé Chalamet and Armie Hammer about their, frankly, outstanding performances in last year’s Call Me By Your Name, I was sickened at having to discuss backlashes against their casting, simply because of who they chose to sleep with off-screen. It was tiresome for them; it was awkward for me. I felt that it detracted from something brilliant, and tarnished the experience. Hadn’t we moved past this? Hadn’t we be fighting for integration for decades, only to now be imposing some ridiculous self-segregation online that then spills out into the public consciousness via news reports and talk show interviews?
Call Me By Your Name did a very rare thing after that decade of sitting through some often questionable “gay” cinema. It was breathtaking, it was a “crossover” piece of cinema. It won an Oscar (and endless other awards). Did it really, truly matter who starred in it, or wrote it, or directed it, or indeed provided the onset catering for it?
Tell the story. Let actors act. Stop bullying them away from being a part of the community, from that world that we want to be as one.
It’s slightly uncomfortable seeing other actors – again, online: are you sensing a pattern yet? – calling out casting decisions based purely on who people sleep with. Does that make you a better choice for the role? Aren’t we supposed to have moved past the casting couch, after all? Maybe they needed someone with more experience, or more of a “star” name. Or maybe, just maybe, they just didn’t want you?
Naming no names – at least not until you buy me a drink first – I have seen some pretty ropey casting of LGBT+ people in LGBT+ roles, with them being given that opportunity simply because the people involved think it’s the right thing to do. It might make good headlines, but it makes terrible viewing. It narrows the field if you only consider gay actors for gay roles. The best person for any part is based on their abilities to make people believe, not their sexuality.
Let’s not forget that even when Hollywood does cast an LGBT+ person in a gay role – Ruby Rose as Batwoman last week, for example – they still end up being hounded off Twitter for being “the wrong lesbian”, or some such nonsense. This, from people who weren’t even aware until last week that Batwoman even was a lesbian.
If I, an out gay man, wanted a plumber, I would hire the best plumber. I wouldn’t hire someone because they were gay and simply told me they were a plumber. The world is full of people who bequeath themselves grandiose job titles, but actually just aren’t up to the job, as much as they’d like to be.
And there are, let’s face it, quite a few more pressing issues to contend with for LGBT+ people living around the world today. If you’re angry at actors pretending to be people that they’re not, perhaps you need to have a long, hard think about what they do for a living.
Darren Scott is the former editor of a national gay magazine and freelance journalist
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