Straight to the heart: Hollywood’s hetero approach to casting gay cinema

Call Me By Your Name is the latest movie to cast straight actors in roles that are not, while the opposite seldom occurs. Is it time for #OscarsSoStraight?

Every time a new movie about a gay relationship comes out, the question gets asked: “Why did they have to cast straight actors?” White actors playing characters of colour is seen as inappropriate; what about straight actors playing gay characters?

The issue has risen again with Call Me By Your Name, a new film detailing a romance between a precocious teenager (Timothée Chalamet) and the Adonis-like American grad student (Armie Hammer) who’s staying at his Italian country home. It’s already being talked of in Oscar terms. Does it matter that both leads are straight? As were Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain; Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right; Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor in I Love You Phillip Morris; and so on.

The film’s director, Luca Guadagnino, has a valid response: “This film is about the blossoming of love and desire, no matter where it comes from and toward what. So I couldn’t have ever thought of casting with any sort of gender agenda … I prefer much more never to label my performers in any way.”

Straight times ... watch the trailer for Call Me By Your Name.

If only others in “liberal” Hollywood thought the same. A 2013 survey found more than half of LGBT performers had overheard homophobic comments on set, and felt that studios found it harder to market LGBT performers.

Actors back this up. Thorn Birds heartthrob Richard Chamberlain, who came out in 2003, later said he “wouldn’t advise a gay leading man-type actor to come out”. Rupert Everett said he didn’t work in Hollywood for a decade after coming out, and last year Ellen Page complained that she was suddenly only being offered gay roles. “Now I’m gay, I can’t play a straight person?” she asked.

It was a rhetorical question but, in 2010, Newsweek writer Ramin Setoodeh suggested exactly that. Reviewing a play starring Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes, Setoodeh wrote: “It’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is.”

If you are openly gay, your sexuality trumps your talent and your career could suffer. Straight actors playing gay, though, are brave, deserving of Oscars. It has worked for Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hilary Swank, Sean Penn and Jared Leto. Meanwhile, no openly gay or lesbian actor has won. Despite Guadagnino’s fine sentiments, if Call Me By Your Name figures in this season’s awards, it won’t change that. Is it time for an #OscarsSoStraight moment?

Call Me By Your Name is in cinemas on 27 October

Contributor

Steve Rose

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Video lame: has Hollywood’s warped relationship with gaming gone too far?
Studios are keener than ever to take a cut from this multibillion-dollar industry – but even the best games rarely inspire good films

Steve Rose

09, Apr, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
How casting across racial lines exposes Hollywood’s power imbalance
As Mary Queen of Scots and Hellboy have shown, colourblind casting and whitewashing are part of the same, complex argument

Steve Rose

01, Apr, 2019 @9:02 AM

Article image
Why the privileged white male is bombing at the Box Office
Troubled white men, in film and on Esquire’s new cover, are everywhere. Does anyone care?

Steve Rose

25, Feb, 2019 @10:05 AM

Article image
Return of the B-movie: why big-budget flops could be good for cinema
The likes of King Arthur and Cars 3 crashed at the box office – but could they pave the way for a ‘second feature’ renaissance?

Steve Rose

11, Sep, 2017 @8:59 AM

Article image
From Ex Machina to Moonlight: how A24 disrupted Hollywood
Can the US indie distributor become the new Miramax or Weinstein Company?

Steve Rose

20, Nov, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Heaven can wait: what will happen to the films delayed by coronavirus?
As postponements pile up due to Covid-19, we look at past shelved cinema releases to see what lessons we can learn

Steve Rose

23, Mar, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
From Quentin Tarantino to Hilary Duff: why Hollywood’s ‘Tatesploitation’ rush is wrong
It is 50 years since Charles Manson’s followers murdered Sharon Tate. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and other films are marking this macabre event, but is it time cinema moved on?

Steve Rose

21, Jan, 2019 @9:59 AM

Article image
And cut! Hollywood’s obsession with suits as status symbols
In spy films such as Bond, Kingsman and Tenet, the real code you have to crack is a sartorial one

Steve Rose

07, Sep, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
As Tenet is delayed yet again, is it time to end cinema's 'America first' policy?
Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated thriller has been delayed indefinitely while the US wrestles with Covid-19. But why should the rest of the world have to wait?

Steve Rose

22, Jul, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Spider-Man: Far from Home: Hollywood’s fixation with Euro cliches
The new Spider-Man is one pair of clogs from full European bingo – further solidifying cinema’s ongoing pursuit of stereotypes

Steve Rose

08, Jul, 2019 @8:00 AM