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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Commentary: LGBTQ in Hollywood

Reserving LGBTQ roles is a double-standard, misses issue

The 91st Academy Awards was a big night for LGBTQ characters portrayed on the big screen in Hollywood. Rami Malek and Olivia Coleman won the Academy Award for Actor and Actress in a Leading Role for their roles as Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Queen Anne in “The Favourite.” Many in the LGBTQ community, however, were outraged that the two actors themselves are straight. The topic of diversity is a critical issue that must continue to be addressed. However, outrage toward the Academy Awards winners is a double-standard. Actors do what they do best — act.

Rami Malek’s role as Freddie Mercury danced with sensitive subjects such as living in an unwelcoming society and living with HIV/AIDS. In retrospect, as someone that became HIV positive after the film debuted, I appreciate the raw emotion that Malek poured into a character he can’t relate to through personal experience. It’s in that willingness to see the world through the lens of another that genuine acts of kindness can come to fruition, such as choosing this role over another.

For Olivia Coleman to play Queen Anne required her to transport herself to a time where even nobility had to hide their desires behind absolute discretion at the risk of fatal costs. Women were not allowed to express their sexual desires

Many straight characters in Hollywood were played by LGBTQ characters over the years. Neil Patrick Harris, Matt Bomer and Luke Evans have all played straight characters — and they played them well. The notion that someone themself must belong to the group being captured on film overlooks the level of empathy and understanding that actors can harness and spread. Although, an entirely diverse industry would help to address many of the stories untold.

Accepting the role of playing an LGBTQ character is an ally status. Actors take the time to get into the mind of their characters and live in their footsteps. Though they may never be someone that identifies as LGBTQ, they’ve helped humanize a group of people that have been persecuted and outcasted for many years and increase diversity.

Incredible strides have been made in Hollywood to address diversity. An “inclusion rider” is a clause an actor can request in their contract that requires at least half of the cast crew and staff to be industry minorities. The Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America also work with internal committees aimed at increasing the variety of talent showcased on screen.

The debate also covers the race that actors can portray. In 2016, there was outrage from Harry Potter critics when they found out that Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermione in the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” People took for granted the versatility of a character that was never racially specified in the novels by the author. J.K. Rowling responded to critics by saying that Dumezweni was chosen because she was the best fit in the pool of people to select from, which demonstrates that the issue in Hollywood isn’t straight people stealing the roles reserved for LGBTQ actors, but an insufficient pool of candidates.

The industry as a whole is the bigger picture and singling out actors by guilting them into forfeiting their roles doesn’t create a healthy environment or template to work off. While encouraging actors to relinquish their roles and leave them open to LGBTQ actors, it misses that critical step of enlarging the variety of actors to choose from. I implore people to empower committees that have an influence and say behind the camera where effective change is more likely to be longer lived. In the meantime, the stories of critical LGBTQ characters can be played by well-known famous actors  

Accurately playing a role in a film is essential to encapsulating the message of a historical figure such as Freddie Mercury and Queen Anne, and Rami Malek and Olivia Coleman delivered on their end. Getting the message across to the audience, and having it stick with them, is the point of a film regardless of the sexual orientation of the actor.

Written by: Josh Madrid – arts@theaggie.org

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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