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13 May 2010

Gay actors can't play straight characters? GLAAD demands apology from Newsweek

Gay media watch group Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is demanding an apology from Newsweek magazine for a recent article that the group says suggested gay actors can't play straight characters.

In “Straight Jacket” which was posted on Newsweek.com on April 26, writer Ramin Setoodeh criticised Sean Hayes' latest leading-man performance in Promises, Promises on Broadway, writing that the openly gay actor "comes off as wooden and insincere, like he's trying to hide something, which of course he is."

Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth in Promises, Promises

The writer added that while it is acceptable for straight actors to play gay roles, "it's rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse."

“Whether he intended it to or not, Ramin Setoodeh’s article in Newsweek sends a false and damaging message about gay actors by endorsing the idea that there are limits to the roles they are able to play.” Jarrett Barrios, president of GLAAD, said in a statement published on its website.

“If Setoodeh wanted to start a discussion about the work of gay performers, he undermined his own premise by affirming stereotype after stereotype, such as gay actors being ‘insincere’ or unbelievable when playing romantic leads, and dismissing or disregarding the work of actors like Neil Patrick Harris, Cheyenne Jackson, Cherry Jones, Wanda Sykes, Jonathan Groff and Alan Cumming, among others.

Creator of the hit Fox series Glee Ryan Murphy and several actors have spoken out against the article. 

Murphy has called for a boycott of the magazine until it apologises to its gay readers, Hayes and "and other brave out actors who were cruelly singled out in this damaging, needlessly cruel and mind-blowingly bigoted piece."

Kristin Chenoweth, who stars opposite Hayes in "Promises, Promises" on Broadway, defended her co-star and denounced the Newsweek article in a letter to the editor.

"No one needs to see a bigoted, factually inaccurate article that tells people who deviate from heterosexual norms that they can't be open about who they are and still achieve their dreams," she wrote on Newsweek's website.

Afterelton.com reported: Cheyenne Jackson and Michael Urie straight-out called the Newsweek entertainment writer an ''asshole'' who's ''unconscionable.'' The two out actors were speaking at a talkback after Monday's performance of The Temperamentals, Jon Marans acclaimed Off-Broadway play about early gay rights activists in the 1950s.

“Everytime we go forward, some asshole like this takes us back a bit,” Jackson said. 

Urie, who stars in The Temperamentals as Viennese designer Rudi Gernreich, added: “Look, I'm not from f*cking Vienna. We're all actors, and the audiences get it… No straight critics accuse Sean Penn of not being able to play Harvey Milk or [criticise] Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.”

Setoodeh, who's openly gay, responded to the criticism in a post on Newsweek.com on May 10 saying:

"Instead of hiding behind double entendre and leaving the obvious unstated, I wrote an essay in the May 10 issue of NEWSWEEK called 'Straight Jacket' examining why, as a society, it's often hard for us to accept an openly gay actor playing a straight character. You can disagree with me if you like, but when was the last time you saw a movie starring a gay actor? The point of my essay was not to disparage my own community, but to examine an issue that is being swept under the rug.

"I realize this is a complicated subject matter, but the Internet sometimes has a way of oversimplfying things. My article became a straw man for homophobia and hurt in the world. If you were pro-gay, you were anti-NEWSWEEK. Chenoweth's argument that gay youth need gay role models is true, but that's not what I was talking about. I was sharing my honest impression about a play that I saw. If you don't agree with me, I'm more than happy to hear opposing viewpoints. But I was hoping to start a dialogue that would be thoughtful—not to become a target for people who twisted my words. I'm not a conservative writer with an antigay agenda."

GLAAD is however unconvinced, and said in a statement published on May 12:

“Since the article’s publication, Setoodeh has attempted to reframe his opinion piece as an analysis of the lack of gay men in leading roles, however, he continues to posit that gay male actors are not believable. In his May 11th interview with Joy Behar, Setoodeh claims about Neil Patrick Harris’ television role: ‘He’s not really a romantic lead where women are actually supposed to believe him as a heterosexual character.’

“Whatever Setoodeh’s intentions or beliefs, Newsweek is ultimately responsible for having published this deeply problematic essay and consciously or not, promoting and encouraging Setoodeh’s discomfort.”

United States

Reader's Comments

1. 2010-05-13 16:41  
Essentially it's a compliment. Why would anyone sane wanna play st8 once they enter the delicious realm of gaydom? It's like the English Queen playing the cameo role of a tea lady on Absolutely Fabulous. Simply Impossible I must say! Shocking! We're talking pedigree people. ;) LOL
2. 2010-05-13 17:20  
No one ever had a problem believing Ian McKellan and many other gay actors in a role. Acting is acting. It involves the audience in suspension of disbelief on so many levels, the sexuality of the actor is pretty minor in comparison to believing the character can e.g. walk through walls, fly, or even be in a relationship with Brad Pitt (other than Angelina Jolie).
3. 2010-05-13 19:48  
Gay actors can't play straight roles? Then what about Rock Hudson? Cary Grant, James Dean, Montgomery Clift and many other Hollywood actors? If a gay actor cannot make play a straight character, it's maybe just because he's not right for the part (or not good enough ^^).
Anyway, I guess GLAAD should ignore that kind of comment. Acknowledging it means giving credit to it. Let people say what they want to say. Let the narrow minded ones remain narrow minded. The clever ones won't pay attention and the fools will always believe what they hear.
4. 2010-05-13 20:24  
GLAAD and others should just relax a bit and not be so hypersensitive. While past history would prove the opinion of the writer to be generally wrong, do you really think Harvey Fierstein could play Mike Brady ( oh yea, Mike Brady was gay in real life) your classic all American family man?

Whether his slight was intended or unintended, it is hardly worth the emotional energy to be upset. Laugh it off for what it is.
5. 2010-05-13 22:24  
kuman10127: those who matter, don't bother. those who bother, don't matter.
6. 2010-05-14 00:12  
I agree. There are many impertinent actions out there
7. 2010-05-14 06:19  
gay actors can play straight guys even more convincing because they are not distracted by there female co-players

8. 2010-05-14 06:40  
And what about Rock Hudson and Doris Day? Rock was a matinée idol for years until his announcement that he had contracted AIDS. Knowledge of the gay or straight standing of an actor is what seems to be tainting the perception of the performance, not really what they projecting.

The ones that overcome that bias are just better actors. Sir Ian McKellan is a good example, or even Linda Hunt who played a man in '82 in The Year of Living Dangerously and won an Oscar for it. It is the performance that should be judged.

Maybe Sean Hayes is not that strong an actor yet. He was great in The Bucket List, but the character was neither gay or straight, just a man who assisted a couple of dying men.
9. 2010-05-14 09:28  
so stupid, do u know how many closeted gay actors there are!!!
10. 2010-05-14 09:29  
so stupid, do u know how many closeted gay actors there are!!!
11. 2010-05-14 11:37  
love that Rock Hudson, so cool he was, he hero

gay men have been acting straight for years and years since eternity

12. 2010-05-14 13:11  
An actor is an actor. You act out a lie. So can a gay guy lying about his sexuality. The irony. Anyway just two cents worth
13. 2010-05-14 14:12  
I have not seen Tom Ford's movie "A Single Man". But I know that it stars one of my few favorite Hollywood actors, the sexy Colin Firth. Tom Ford, a gay man, chose Colin Firth, a straight actor, for his very first film. Shouldn't Tom Ford have chosen a gay actor such as, oh, Rupert Everett? And why not?

I read Ramin Setoodeh's article and understood his points. A gay man who carries himself differently from a straight man is easily visible. And his different mannerism somehow becomes a gay man's "trademark". For example, in the US, a "typical" gay man has a shaved head (or extremely short hair). If he choose to act "straight", he tends to act stiffly -- or wooden. Watch interviews on YouTube that includes Tom Ford and Colin Firth and observe the ways that Tom and Colin carry themselves. Tom comes across as trying very hard to act "straight" whereas the gentle Colin still exudes that sexy "maleness" effortlessly.

Straight actors like Russell Crowe or Colin Firth not just capture the female audience's imagination, they also make male audience want to be like them. Can gay actors do the same? If gay actors can only capture a smaller segment of the general audience, then their achievement will be limited.

Won't it be nice to know -- and to see -- that there are gay men that look and act like Colin Firth, Mitt Romney (a US politician) and Scott Brown (also a US politician)? I am sure that these gay men will have no problem capturing women's imagination.

14. 2010-05-14 14:27  
Here's a fantastic blog post by Brett Berk on vanityfair.com about Ramin Setoodeh's previous writings:

"Here’s my theory: it seems to me that his real issue is not actually with these or other homos playing straight, but with some deep-seated conflict he has with gay guys that he perceives as being too fey or effeminate.

"In a Newsweek article from last November, he took down a whole host of TV characters for being too swish for prime time, labeling their queeniness not only grotesque, but injurious to our people’s hopes for long term aggregation into the mainstream.

Extract from "Kings of Queens: Gays on TV once helped promote tolerance. Now they may be hurting it" Newsweek, Nov 12, 2009:

"But if we accept that Will, Dawson’s, and the rest once fostered acceptance, it’s fair to ask if Glee may be hurting it, especially because the Kurt model [what Setoodeh calls “the male version of diva”] is everywhere. There’s Marc (Michael Urie), the flaming fashion assistant on Ugly Betty; Lloyd (Rex Lee), Ari’s sassy receptionist on Entourage; the gay couple on Modern Family ... and the dozens of squealing contestants on Project Runway."

As if this weren’t enough to demonstrate his rather simplistic thinking, in a shocking article from July, 2009, our ingenious author goes out of his way to suggest that a troubled and aggressively femme-y 15-year-old junior high schooler named Larry King helped bring about his own murder—by point-blank gunshot, at the hands of one of his classmates—by being…aggressively effeminate.

Extract from "Young, Gay and Murdered" Newsweek, Jul 19, 2008:

"What you might call “the shrinking closet” is arguably a major factor in Larry’s death. Even as homosexuality has become more accepted, the prospect of being openly gay in middle school raises a troubling set of issues. Kids may want to express who they are, but they are playing grown-up without fully knowing what that means.... Larry King was, admittedly, a problematical test case: he was a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon."

15. 2010-05-14 20:36  
It's ironic that this Setoodeh guy singles out a couple of gay actors for being unconvincingly straight when there are millions of gay guys throughout the world who are obliged to play straight convincingly every day. Sad.

For Setoodeh, the problem is not being gay. The problem is being out and proud. It's not talent that makes an actor convincing. It's the simple knowledge of his actual sexuality that makes him unconvincing. In some ways, he does have a point. After all, he was the one who correctly predicted that Adam Lambert's perceived homosexuality would whip up huge support for his very Christian (and less talented) rival on American Idol. And yes, when it comes to the lowest-common-denominator forms of popular culture, sexuality does matter in the USA (but far less in Europe). But when you get out of the mud into the clearer waters of culture and entertainment, the sexuality factor becomes almost negligible judging from the huge list of very successful "convincingly straight" gay actors over the last 50 or 60 years. Pushing the Adam Lambert lesson to cover quality theatre and TV is Setoodeh's most grievous and most dangerous simplification.

I think a little indifference-- and maybe a little pity-- is called for. After all, Setoodeh grew up in Texas. Not quite the best place for Iranian immigrants or little gay boys with "un-American" names to feel accepted. But it's a shame that he brought all that baggage to New York. He seems to assume that those who are different (like himself) wear a Scarlet Letter that disqualifies them from convincingly pretending to be something else. Even talented actors! It's mind-boggling that this a-fag-is-a-fag-is-a-fag-is-a-fag mantra comes from one of our own.
16. 2010-05-14 21:46  
Is that reviewer's opinion pathetic, or is it just hopelessly blinkered? I really can't decide. Hmmm...

It is, of course, utter nonsense that a gay man - or woman - can't play a convincing heterosexual character, hopelessly in love with their Wife (or Husband) etc.

It's called 'acting' - the fact that Hollywood, and TV shows, have a tendency to 99 times out of 100 portray gay men as Screamingly Camp And Bitchy Poofs is unfortunate (and bloody annoying), but that's the way the entertainment system works, rather than a reflection on closeted gay actors.

Not EVERY gay actor wants to take on a hopelessly cliched role like 'Jack' in 'Will And Grace', and, as has already been pointed out here, throughout Hollywood's history there've been an awful lots of Men's Men (like Monty Clift and Rock Hudson etc) who were held up as idealistic heterosexual men, with millions of adoring female fans.

Then, as now, gay actors make for extremely convincing heterosexual roles - regardless of blinked critics...
17. 2010-05-15 19:48  
Someone should write an article on closeted "straight" actors. Cuz there are a handful of them and they certainly can act.
18. 2010-05-17 02:07  
What an utter bullshit ~_~"
19. 2010-05-24 15:09  
I think Ive to make my personal judgement on Seetoodeh base on his professionalism writing and publishing such writing in a popular magazine. The article should not be ambiguish rather it is intentional and of course out of bad intention. Gays are already streotype as "queeny", in many ways, there is no need for him to further mislead audience. Streotyping mindset is one of the biggest problem in accepting gay which shouldnt be ignored. Therefore, I think Glaad is not over sensitive nor the matter can be smile and get over it. It is acceptable if Seetoodeh feels and criticize on Sean's poor performance rather generalizing gay actor cannot protray straight. Base on his professionalism, he is obviously not. Unlike him, who cares if I write gay actors cannot protray straight on some toilet walls?

Anyway, nowadays, there are many sissy but straight men out there, everywhere around us. Of course there are equally many straight acting married men that gay, too.

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