If you look at the small handful of openly gay people of note working in Hollywood, you’ll notice a trend; the majority of them are all over fifty. Jodie Foster came out only a few years ago, after living behind the ambiguity of neither confirming nor denying her sexuality for many years. Sir Ian McKellen made the transition to cinema after becoming one of the biggest figures in British theatre, by which point he had already come out. Both are non-threatening examples of homosexuality, of a certain age that makes their sexuality almost irrelevant to the cinema-going public. Rupert Everett was unusual in his early coming out, but he has publicly admitted that his decision led to a restriction in the roles he was cast in. And Wentworth Miller, who came out only a few months ago in protestation against the anti-gay laws in Russia, was probably never going to rise the A List anyway.
A few years ago, the successful British actor Luke Evans was making the transition from theatre to film. Openly gay, his matinee idol looks meant that he wouldn’t just be auditioning for the character bit-parts and appearing as a supporting player, he’d be going for the romantic leads, wanting to play the hero, not just the baddy or the sidekick. Suddenly, details about Evans’ personal life dried up. In an 1984-esque mopping up exercise, attempting to change the public’s perception of him, or at least make them forget that he had previously come out, Evans suddenly had a girlfriend and anything that officially confirmed or denied his current homosexual lifestyle vanished from print. In 2002, Evans said "Everybody knew me as a gay man, and in my life in London I never tried to hide it". Two years later he insisted that his acting career had not suffered as a result of his coming out, but by 2010 he was “dating” a marketing expert called Holly.
Let’s take the Transformers franchise as a hypothetical example, a film that is aimed primarily at boys. If you took the franchise’s lead and told the boys who go and see these films that the character who they see as their Everyman, their point of entry and the hero they aspire to be, is actually (hypothetically) a gay man in real life, would they feel the same drive to go and see the film? Unfortunately, the answer is possibly not. Children from more enlightened, educated or liberal backgrounds might say that this doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference, but they would only make up a small portion of the audience. Again, the studio wants the appeal of the film to be as widespread as possible, so anything that might affect this, that’s potentially avoidable, will obviously have measures placed against it to curtail its impact. In this case, it might mean that the actor should stay in the closet. I don’t think these studio execs are homophobic per se, but they are reactionary to the trends in society and until the overwhelming majority of Americans have shed any kind of homophobia, the likelihood of seeing an openly gay actor or actress cast in the lead role of a tentpole summer blockbuster is really quite slim.
Ellen Page is to star in this summer’s X Men: Days Of Future Past. As one of the original cast of the X Men series, she is returning to the role of Kitty Pride in what could be one of the biggest hits of the summer. A few years ago, Page also took the female lead in Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed action film Inception. Now that Page has come out of the closet, is this likely to affect her casting in the future? Well it might prove difficult to tell. Everyone expected her career to sky-rocket after the Best Actress nomination for Juno, but the last few years have been quite quiet for the young star. Were she at the peak of career, we might have been able to see the direct knock-on effect of this revelation, but now the effects may not be so clear. It will certainly be interesting to see where Page’s career goes from here though.
Hidden behind the whiter-than-white and straighter-than-straight facades of 99% of actors in Hollywood, there will be a large number of actors and actresses hiding in the closet. Acting is a profession that automatically attracts a higher proportion of gay people anyway, so for society to assume that all these men and women they see representing them on screen are straight and heteronormative is completely unrealistic. What studio execs seem to be asking of actors is their own equivalent as the US Army’s now defunct “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rule. In time, this will change, but only through the changing attitudes of the audience. The day that the vast majority of an audience are capable of unflinchingly accepting a homosexual lead in a blockbuster movie is the day that Hollywood will provide it, but until then, Hollywood will not be leading the way.