When thinking about the staple LGBTQ+ films that exist, which films come to mind? For many Millennials and much of Gen Z, it consists of Call Me By Your Name, Love, Simon, Boy Erased or Hulu’s new holiday movie, Happiest Season. Now, how many of the main characters are played by actual members of the LGBTQ+ community? Very few.
One argument that comes up when discussing this is “well if straight people can’t act as gay people, should gay people be able to portray straight characters?” It’s an instant and natural reaction, choosing the direct opposite of the question posed. Simply put, it has to do with the purpose of the film. Almost all gay film revolves around a “coming out” or self-realization about the very aspect of being gay, there is no “straight” equivalent to that journey.
Heterosexual people don’t have to come out, they have never been targeted by governments for their sexuality, they will never face systemic discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. If a film is centered around heterosexuality, the casting should be appropriate. It’s not double standard, it’s a simple analysis of what the premise of the film is.
Having a straight actor play the role is demeaning to the journey that actual members of the LGBTQ+ community go through every single day. Not only that, but it allows people to forget that for hundreds of years, and especially in the last century, gay and queer people have been persecuted for their very existence.
Films where the straight actor says the f-slur passively convinces straight audience members that the use of the word is acceptable, despite the history behind the term. Furthermore, the history of gay people throughout the centuries is not kind. From being burned at the stake in the 1500s to one of the largest shootings in the United States’ history, being gay means a target on the back. To this day, it’s illegal to be gay or a member of the LGBTQ+ community in around 70 countries. In 11 of them, the punishment could be lethal.
Many gay films that have been popularized by Hollywood have this intention to increase representation for the LGBTQ+ community in films, but almost always fall short. Call Me By Your Name, was adapted from a gay romance novel written by a straight author starring two straight men as the leading gay roles. For those wondering, adapting a gay romance novel written by an LGBTQ+ person with accurate casting would’ve been a better direction to proceed. That being said, the second film in the series based on Find Me, the second book by the same author, was confirmed in 2020.
In 2018, Love, Simon thrived on-screen and in the box office. The main character, Simon Spier, was faced with being “outed” by a classmate before he was ready. The potential for audience tears was at an all-time high, but Nick Robinson, the actor behind Spier, is yet another heterosexual man playing a gay character, portraying an experience he will never have to go through. Keiynan Lonsdale, a bisexual man, was perhaps the only properly-cast character in the movie. The film faced a lot of backlash for casting a straight actor in place of a gay one, and naturally, the television spin-off did the same exact thing. Casting gay actors for gay roles is not a difficult concept, the bar is so low.
Recently, Hulu released a gay holiday movie titled, Happiest Season starring Kristen Stewart, Dan Levy and Mackenzie Davis. The story was very authentic and it was certainly appealing to see gay actors have a story that is rich in detail while maintaining that corny Hallmark holiday feeling. In the film, Abby (Kristen Stewart) is in a relationship with Harper (Mackenzie Davis) who needs to come out to her parents over the holiday. This plotline would again be pristine, but the actress behind Harper is a heterosexual woman, so there’s a layer of authenticity that isn’t possible, no matter how hard she tries.
Growing up without gay representation in film means LGBTQ+ actors know the importance of having those roles be filled authentically. A stigma exists, however, that once they do one gay film, they’ll be limited to that one category. So why is it that straight actors can fill these roles without the same fear? It’s because society often reduces members of marginalized communities to what sets them apart, viewing them as two-dimensional rather than a person with depth. If that weren’t true, we wouldn’t have an actor such as Nick Robinson who was able to play a gay teenager do a full 180 to a character having a heterosexual affair in A Teacher.
LGBTQ+ actors exist. Use them. Let them draw from their experiences. A straight person is able to portray a gay character, but at least try getting someone who doesn’t have to fake it.
Jack Hiltner is a sophomore studying strategic communications at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Jack? Tweet him @JackHiltner.