Tom Hanks and the age-old question of gay characters played by straight actors

Tom Hanks and the age-old question of gay characters played by straight actors

The words spoken by Tom Hanks, during the Elvis promotional tour, have rekindled a debate that is certainly one of the most divisive and current: the one connected to the relationship between the non-straight community and its representation, or better still its interpretation. The question of the representation of the LGBTQIA + world in the cinema is anything but superficial or resolved, as it is connected to a moment of absolute change in contemporary narration. And if you want to deepen this dynamic, you must immediately be aware of the fact that for decades being not straight has basically meant having your career destroyed.

Looking at the past with different eyes "Let's talk about this: Could a heterosexual do now what I did in Philadephia? No, and that would be right. The message the film was trying to deliver was: don't be afraid. One of the reasons people weren't scared of the film was that I was playing a gay. We're past that stage by now and I don't think people would accept the inauthenticity of a heterosexual actor as a homosexual. It is not a crime, it is not to blame those who argue that in contemporary films we must be more demanding in terms of authenticity. " . More precise and clear words Tom Hanks could not choose, after all, the film industry, the American one in particular, has been putting inclusiveness on the agenda for a long time.

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An inclusiveness understood both as an inherent element in the cinematographic narrative, and above all as a decision to give more possibilities to non-straight actors and actresses. Being a member of the LGBTQIA + community was something that until a few years ago was basically a death sentence for any acting career. Maybe the situation has changed now? Yes, but according to far less than you think, than is necessary. But certainly in Philadelphia Tom Hanks made a great contribution in his time in this regard. In that 1993, the actor had moved the world as a homosexual lawyer and terminally ill with AIDS, who, thanks to his tenacity and courage, and the help of a former rival of the forum, succeeded in overcoming his former employers. work, homophobic, intolerant and bigoted.

Even today that film is indicated as a watershed moment, basically it completely changed the conception of homosexuality in public opinion, which until then accepted ghettoization without particular hesitation. Today, however, we try to understand how much the concept of interpretation for those who work as an actor, for those who wear masks and identities, must be disconnected from the need to make the inclusive process that one wants to pursue real and complete. in our society. Because for a long time, behind the mask, countless protagonists of the big screen have never been able to live their life and sexuality openly.

A community long ghettoized in Hollywood Without a shadow of a doubt the most telling example is that of Rock Hudson. Male cinematic face symbol of the 50s and 60s, a colossus endowed with charm, sex appeal and talent, Hudson soon became one of the most desired faces in the female world ever. His homosexuality was known within the narrow circle of Hollywood but not among the general public, an element that forced him, to avoid being literally purged, even to a cover marriage with his secretary, Phyllis Gates. Until 1984, when in the transmission of his friend Doris Day he showed that he was sick with AIDS, he kept the most total silence about his homosexuality.

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Rupert Everett is a typical case of the price that was paid until a few years ago, in the case of a courageous coming out. Starting in the 1980s, he became a male icon acclaimed by all.

Sensual, athletic, expressive, he was also in great demand in the fashion world, at least until he came out. In recent years he has always repeated that this stance made him a pariah within the Hollywood environment, cutting off his overseas career, which by force of circumstances was purely European from that moment on. Other illustrious names to include among those who in the past had to lie about their sexuality all their life, paying a very high price, were those of Greta Garbo, Montgomery Clift or Tab Hunter. Only in the last few decades has it gradually become less risky to come out.

Yet a unique cinematic icon like Jodie Foste r had to wait until 2013 with her Golden Globe awards, to be able to claim her identity and Kristen Stewart, who has always been literally besieged by the media, openly declared to the own bisexuality only in 2017. For years she had been told to hide this, so as not to have her career ruined, because she had to remain an object of desire of the male audience.

Also for this reason there is a part of the LBGTQIA + Community that insistently asks that at least the roles that refer to their community be left to artists who are part of the same.

A difficult and complex future

But is it really necessary? Is it really inappropriate to have a straight guy play gay characters as Tom Hanks claims? Matt Boomer, Cynthia Nixon, Ronen Rubinstein, Neil Patrick Harris or Samira Wiley, have come out, are very popular and continue to work profitably… .but to a certain extent. With the exception of Luke Evans, Ben Wishaw, the aforementioned Stewart and a few others, it was pointed out that very often actors and actresses from the LGBTQIA + community, the most important roles in the most high-sounding productions see them go to straight artists. Of course, their name is often mentioned, but then "casually" they are never chosen. Truth or conspiracy theory?

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What it is certain that the last few years have questioned many of the pillars of what we believed to be the craft of the actor. A symbol of the gay world like the great Ian McKellen responded to the words of Tom Hanks some time ago, warning of the danger of an artistic sterilization inherent in this request for 360 ° authenticity. "The argument that a straight man can't play a gay role is nonsense, does it mean that I can't play straight parts and I'm not allowed to explore the fascinating topic of heterosexuality in Macbeth? Surely not. We are acting. We are pretending after all ”.

Simon Callow, a hugely popular British actor and director, proudly gay, echoed him: “Although he's gay, that doesn't qualify me to play all the different types of gay people there are. It is a very simple and dangerous idea that you can only play someone who you really are. Pretending, playing, basically the actor's job is this, but we must also understand that at the moment we live in an era in which we try to find a balance between the different demands. Perhaps the reality is that no one is completely wrong and completely right, and that only time and goodwill will allow us to reach those compromises to change things. And it won't be a simple or fast process.

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