While speaking on a panel Friday at the Rome Film Festival, Carol leading lady Cate Blanchett said that having a lesbian experience wasn't necessary for her to play gay, regardless of the controversy surrounding straight actors playing gay.
While watching clips from the Todd Haynes–directed 2015 lesbian drama, Blanchett told the audience that the media frequently posed questions regarding her sexuality and if she needed to be queer to play a lesbian, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
"It also speaks to something that I’m quite passionate about in storytelling generally, but in film specifically, is that film can be quite a literal medium,” said Blanchett. “And I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience. I think reality television and all that that entails had an extraordinary impact, a profound impact on the way we view the creation of character."
Blanchett's reasoning reflects her interest in the craft of acting but does not speak to the serious controversies about delivering Oscar-caliber gay roles to straight performers.
The award-winning actress indeed scored an Academy Award nomination for playing a lesbian in Carol, as did her straight costar Rooney Mara. An acting Oscar has never gone to an out man or woman, as noted by Sir Ian McKellen in 2016. The gay actor noted that homophobia is as rampant in Hollywood as racism, but the movement has yet to have a reckoning like "Oscars So White."
Fifty-two straight performers have received Oscar nominations for portraying LGBTQ people. Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Charlize Theron (Monster), Sean Penn (Milk), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman), Tom Hanks (Philadelphia), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Nicole Kidman (The Hours), and Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry) are among those who took home Hollywood's top prize for playing lesbian, gay, bi, or trans. One could also count George Sanders, whose character Addison DeWitt in All About Eve can definitely be seen as gay, although his sexual orientation was not overtly established as such in the 1950 movie's script.
Many have expressed their disappointment that Blanchett, who has a cult queer following, has not recognized the homophobia actors face.
Disappointing. As someone who's been denied auditions for both gay and straight roles because I'm LGBTQ, it'd be nice if #CateBlanchett would fight for broader representation. But she doesn't have to audition so I guess she can't relate.
— Adam J. Yeend (@AJYeend) October 21, 2018
52 straight actors have been nominated for LGBTQ+ roles, how many queer people have been awarded for playing any role ?
— Matt M (@McMatty_92) October 20, 2018
Cool. Love her. Now I would love to hear her fight to the death for gay actors playing straight roles. There's the real hurdle.
— Maureen (@soaprookie) October 20, 2018
The problem is that Hollywood locks out lgbt from not only straight roles but also lgbt roles... and from even telling our own stories as directors etc...
— Waseem Imam Saheb (@WaseemIS) October 20, 2018
Actually it should not be a matter of LGBT people playing LGBT characters. It is a matter of giving equal chance to LGBT+ actors. Str8 actors should have the right to play LGBT characters as LGBT should be able to portray in straight roles. We'd wait some positive discrimination
— Turkish Gays - LGBT (@PrideTurkey) October 20, 2018
It's not about pretending or just being an actor it's that how much LGBTQ thespians have been overlooked by Hollywood
— Jake Larson (@JakeLar19177688) October 22, 2018
The call for gay roles to go to gay actors “provides a lot of opportunity, but the downside of it is that we now, particularly in America, I think, we expect and only expect people to make a profound connection to a character when it’s close to their experience," Blanchett told the festival audience.
She noted that it was hard to get Carol green-lit but that she is optimistic that it's getting easier for films with LGBTQ subject matter to be produced.
“Carol was a real labor of love for me. I’d read the Patricia Highsmith story ages ago, when I was in high school. And the film, I think now would be made in a heartbeat, but eight years ago, it was a very difficult film to get up," she explained. "Two women, both of whom are of lesbian-ish persuasion in the 1950s, which is like, ‘Who wants to go and see that? Only 12-year-old boys go to movies.' Thank goodness we’re changing the demographic of the critics who write for Rotten Tomatoes.”