Op-ed: What Is Hollywood Still So Scared Of?

While visibility of queer characters may be at an all-time high, Hollywood's reaction to LGBT-centric films proves homophobia lurks somewhere behind the scenes.

BY Jase Peeples

January 14 2014 7:00 AM ET

LGBT representation in Hollywood could mistakenly seem all the rage these days. From out teens on shows like Glee to gay dads Mitch and Cam on Modern Family and lesbian moms Lena and Stef on The Fosters, it isn’t hard to list characters in prime-time TV who register somewhere on the rainbow scale. And the current cavalcade of films screening at the local cineplex is no different. Dramas, comedies, and even the occasional action flick often find some way to squeeze in a lesbian sister, questioning son, or gay best friend.

Nevertheless, proof that Hollywood’s love affair with LGBT people is really nothing more than a mild flirtation was apparent at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. Actors Michael Douglas and Jared Leto grabbed top honors for their “transformative” roles as LGBT characters in Behind the Candelabra and Dallas Buyers Club, while managing to omit any mention in their acceptance speeches of the struggles they worked so hard to portray on-screen.

Behind the Candelabra director Steven Soderbergh made it clear in an interview last year with the New York Post that the movie aired on HBO because film studios had rejected it for being “too gay.” Maybe I hoped to hear Douglas triumphantly point out that the film’s success at the Globes proved there was a place for such stories in mainstream Hollywood. Instead, he reinforced old fears. After his win, Douglas told the press he was not only worried for himself when he was originally offered the role of Liberace, but also that costar Matt Damon had taken a huge “risk” in playing the part of the pianist’s lover because he was still considered a “leading man.”

Douglas’s comments come on the heels of those he made at the Emmys, where he joked about hand jobs and anal sex during his acceptance speech for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or movie. 

At a time when bullying has been identified as a top issue for LGBT youth, Matthew McConaughey sidestepped any mention of his character’s transformation from homophobe to LGBT advocate in Dallas Buyers Club, while his costar Jared Leto fared only slightly better. “To the Rayons of the world, thanks for the inspiration,” Leto said during his Globes acceptance speech for best supporting actor in a motion picture — vaguely referencing the transgender woman dying of AIDS he portrayed on the screen.

However, what Leto took the time to make abundantly clear during both his speech and to the press backstage was the work it took for him to drop to a skeletal 116 pounds, the awkwardness he felt having to wax most of his body, and how “fortunate” he was he “didn’t have to do a full Brazilian.”

Until straight actors can take on LGBT roles without needing to crack a joke about it in their acceptance speeches or waxing about credibility as a “leading man,” it’s clear that homophobia in Hollywood must still be alive and well.

While actors shouldn’t be expected to transform into activists simply because they play an LGBT character, failing to even acknowledge the real-world obstacles LGBT people face — or firing off crude jokes — while being honored for convincingly portraying those struggles on-screen not only makes those actors appear to be insensitive, it cheapens the impact of their work.

 

JASE PEEPLES is Entertainment Editor for The Advocate. Watch video of the Golden Globes acceptance speeches below.

Tags: Commentary

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