Should Straight Actors Play Queer Roles?

The 2019 Oscar nominees are in, and I was quite pleasantly surprised by the inclusivity, especially in the Best Picture category. Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Roma, and Green Book are beautiful stories about race (and after #OscarsSoWhite, we deserve some color). What stuck out to me was that five of the films nominated for Best Picture have queer leading or supporting characters, most notably in The Favourite, which depicts a lesbian love triangle in 18th century Britain. Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book, A Star is Born, and Vice all feature prominent LGBTQ+ characters, plots, and themes.

On top of that, uber-gay The Favourite unexpectedly nabbed ten nominations, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (nominated for three awards) featured a lesbian protagonist, and we can all agree that Elastigirl and Evelyn had undeniable sexual tension in The Incredibles 2, which was nominated for Best Animated Picture.

Impressive, no? As a flaming homosexual myself, I always get a little giddy when LGBTQ+ art receives critical acclaim. But how many of these queer characters are played by straight actors? Turns out, it’s almost every single one.

Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, stands at Comic Con.
“Rami Malek” by Gage Skidmore (Flickr) is licensed under CC by 2.0

Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, all three leads in The Favourite, Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and Mahershala Ali in Green Book all portray queer characters, yet all identify as straight in real life. Even outside of the Oscars, several mainstream queer films casted straight leads this year. Look at Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased, Chloe Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and Nick Robinson in Love, Simon.

So, what’s the issue? These are actors and they are doing their job — acting. Are we gonna chastise Chris Evans for playing a superhero even though he’s not openly super in real life? Of course not, and to be quite honest, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong about a straight, cisgender actor playing an LGBTQ+ character. 

The issue is that it’s almost always a straight, cisgender actor playing an LGBTQ+ character.

“Costumes and props from Brokeback Mountain” by dvs (Flickr) is licensed under CC by 2.0

Think about the biggest queer movies of all time — Brokeback Mountain, Milk, Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name. All groundbreaking, all beautiful queer stories…but all with straight leads. It isn’t very often that LGBTQ+ protagonists are written for mainstream releases, and when they are, a straight person gets to tell that story.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of an LGBTQ+ actor — you’re not likely to get the straight leading role in a film because the audience “wouldn’t believe it,” but you’re not getting the queer leading role in a film because they gave it to some straight A-lister. Don’t worry though, you’ll be great as “Sassy Best Friend #2” or “Lesbian In Gym Class Who Loves Softball” in the next movie!

This point especially rings true for trans people. It’s commendable that more and more mainstream films are giving audiences three-dimensional transgender characters; however, it’s usually a cisgender actor in the role. Not only is the movie taking away a job for a trans actor, but they’re also subtly reinforcing the idea that trans people are just men or women in drag.

So, should a film be written off just because the actors identify differently from their characters? Definitely not. I’ll still rave about movies like Call Me By Your Name until the day I die, even if Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet are tragically hetero. I would just love to see myself represented in both the movie and the behind-the-scenes interviews. I would also love to see queer actors get the same opportunities of their straight counterparts.

2 thoughts on “Should Straight Actors Play Queer Roles?

  1. “It isn’t very often that LGBTQ+ protagonists are written for mainstream releases, and when they are, a straight person gets to tell that story.” — I think about this question of voice and who gets to tell who’s story a lot. We think about advocacy in terms of giving voice to the voiceless– and I think in some ways that has translated into film. Some straight, progressive, cis actors may feel like they are doing advocacy work by portraying the lives of queer folks with integrity and respect. At the same time, having straight folks portray queer lives further marginalizes actual, lived, queer experiences. A well-written and thoughtful approach @tiredandgay!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved your take on the representation of LGBTQ+ actors in movies @tiredandgay! LGBTQ+ actors should be the ones who have the opportunity to portray queer characters in films. Thank you for this insightful blog post, well done!


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