Playing It Straight: Newsweek Peeks Into The Celluloid Closet
Barbs and sneers have been bandied about the blogosphere and on tabloid TV over a Newsweek article that deigns to question whether gay actors can be taken seriously in straight roles. My ears perked up last night after a call from a gay friend, who had seen the writer, Ramin Setoodeh –an openly gay man– “try to defend his self-hating homophobic ass” on “The Joy Behar Show.”
Just coming off a radio discussion about Elena Kagan’s “dubious sexual proclivities,” underscored by that odd Wall Street Journal pic of the Supreme Court nominee playing softball, I thought I had been sucked into some sort of time machine and sent spiraling back into the 1950′s. Okay, I exaggerate; back then, though I wasn’t even a glint in my parents’ eyes, we wouldn’t be having any sort of conversation, contentious or otherwise about homosexuality. Not in the public square anyway.
I just don’t understand the never-ending fascination over assessing celebrities’ sexual preferences ( or anything celebrity related, for that matter) There have always been gay actors, though for decades people like Tab Hunter, Rock Hudson and Van Johnson remained closeted. That’s the way they had to play it. Audiences wouldn’t have accepted them as leading men had they known the truth. So said the dictates that controlled the Hollywood studio PR machine. And so it was.
And so it still is? For years rumors have dogged an A-list of top talent including: Tom Cruise, Richard Gere, Kevin Spacey and Jodie Foster. Rupert Everett blames his slacking career on his own swing through the celluloid closet a few years ago. And he has warned other gay actors to think twice before making such an exit.
All of this brings me back to that infamous Newsweek article, What had this guy said to earn him derision from Ryan Murphy, the co-creator of of “Glee”( who has called for a Newsweek boycott) and GLAD. Jarrett Barrios, GLAD’s president issued a statement:” Whether he intended it or not, Ramin Setoodeh’s article in Newsweek sends a false and damaging message about gay actors by endorsing the idea that there are limits to the roles they are able to play.”
So I read the article. And the worst thing the guy offered was a weak review of Sean Hayes in the Broadway revival of “Promises, Promises.” He said the openly gay actor, who starred as the flamboyantly gay Jack for nine seasons on the pop culture sensation “Will & Grace“turned out an unconvincing performance. He said Hayes played it “like he’s hiding something, which he is.” I haven’t seen the show, so I can’t offer an opinion. But Setoodeh’s appraisal earned a harsh rebuke form Hayes’ co-star Kristin Chenoweth, who called the article, ‘”horrendously homophobic.”
I’m not so sure. He raises some valid points–though he also provides ammo against his own argument in the guise of Neil Patrick Harris, who had been openly gay when he landed the part of a comically convincing womanizer on the popular sit-com “How I Met Your Mother.” Of course, that’s only TV. And when most entertainment writers talk about Hollywood, they are talking about the movies. And big movies with gay characters are usually –and these days eagerly( Michael Douglas is set to play Liberace in a new bio-pic)–played by straight actors. He points to the most famous example “Brokeback Mountain.” If audiences can accept straight guys like Ledger and Gyllenhaal playing gay, why isn’t the opposite permitted?
Why indeed. Probably because as many barriers that have been broken and stereotypes crushed, homophobia still pervades our culture. But why hurl eggs at this writer whose aim had been to start a dialogue? Apparently people are so furious the poor guy’s gotten a slew of threatening letters, some go as far as to call him an “Uncle Tom” and compare him to Ann Coulter. Whoa, now that’s over the line. Really, read the article. He doesn’t deserve such a hideous insult.
Still a lot of gay people remain incensed. ”He just sent us back to the pink ghetto,” my gay pal fumed. “Now none of the big ones will come out. Not for years.”
Maybe. But if we never talk about it, nothing will change. Talk about it, air out the antiquated Hollywood notions and stuffy fears. And one day a big ticket, brave box office star will proudly march out of that celluloid closet.