They say, “There are no small parts only small actors.” Well, I have played a lot of small parts, but I am not a small actor.
I read in The Hollywood Reporter that Chris Rock aired the industry’s race problem in public, by declaring, “It’s a white industry.” I'd add, it’s a white-straight-man problem.
Rock spoke of the studio executives who told him (and countless other filmmakers of color, most likely) that the world would not get his sense of humor. But when do they ever question whether an audience will “get” a white straight man’s sense of humor?
So I must pose the question, Why do straight white men’s opinions hold more water than the sensibilities of the rest of us?
The industry has always said you can’t be black and star in a movie and then have it make money. But the fact is that Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, and other actors of color have delivered at the box office time and again.
It made me think about the so-called gay problem. The bigwigs see Neil Patrick Harris, Rosie O’Donnell, and other out stars but still can’t shake the idea that you can’t be openly LGBT and a major moneymaking star (because in the end, that’s really what matters in this town: the bottom line).
I have worked steadily as an out gay actor — even if it was acting in small roles of managers and doctors playing third fiddle to younger, more handsome men playing great roles in films tailored for straight men. But there are more than just straight men in the world, which means there have to be entertainment options for the rest of us: we all want to see stories about ourselves, to feel like we are part of a community. Oprah Winfrey in The Butler and Selma, the success of Matt Bomer, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, Helen Mirren in the Prime Suspect series shows us that there are swaths of people in this world who are not white, not straight, not male, not young.
I think we all want to see stories about ourselves, and feel like we are a part of a greater community. If a guy were Asian, or Latino or any other race and was able to work with the best, he should also have the opportunity to step up to the plate to play a superhero. Why not? Not only men can be action stars (witness Lawrence in The Hunger Games), and they don’t have to all be young straight guys (there’s Ian McKellen in The Hobbit). These are only some of the biggest film franchises in the world!
I think most people want to see great stories that make us laugh and cry. I don’t think all of America really cares if the actor is another race or LGBT. There are three types of people: Folks who love gay people, those who hate us, and those who don’t really care. Why do we have to focus on the people who hate us? The bullies and the naysayers? Why can’t we focus on the people who love us? Time will continue to march on as the powers that be continue to make the same exclusionary choices, and the ratings drop on network shows.
But we can’t be stopped — actors, comedians, and singers are all coming out like pop tarts. Sam Smith was out from the get-go, with enough Grammy nominations to make my head spin. You almost have to be gay to host an award show or talk show these days. Meanwhile, the networks still cower at the thought of letting a woman, or person of color, or LGBT talent host a late night show.
I don’t believe the industry is inherently racist but it is exclusive, and it perpetuates a sort of “birds of a feather” environment. If you are a white, heterosexual male, you’ve likely grown up seeing possibilities; the whole pie is at least offered to you. You get to see yourself in movies, and TV shows, and literature. If you are gay or a woman or older or a person of color, you get a pie that’s already been mostly eaten and the few pieces that are left need to microwaved. I want the opportunity to go for that pie. I’m hungry. We all want pie and a place at the table. I know I’m still looking for mine.
JASON STUART is an actor and comedian who is currently in the film Love Is Strange and soon to see seen in an episode of Sleepy Hollow, at the Sundance Film Festival in Tangerine, and now online in his series Mentor. JasonStuart.com