With the release of Behind the Candelabra, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are playing Liberace and his Lover. So is it right that straight actors are portraying gay characters in film? Does it say anything about the diversity of the cinema industry?

Hollywood has a long history of straight actors playing gay characters; Philadelphia, Milk and Brokeback Mountain all have Hollywood A Listers portraying gay characters. All of these films were hugely successful and nominated for multiple awards. Maybe it’s cynical to suggest that portraying a gay role in a serious drama is a guarantee for an Oscar nod. It’s par for the course now in Hollywood, to play gay is to show your acting versatility and ability to inhabit a characters space that is different from your own. There are cases of openly gay actors playing gay characters. In Gods and Monster’s Sir Ian McEwan portrays James Whale, the Frankenstein creator from the golden age of Hollywood. Rupert Everett has spent most of his career as the gay side kick comedy relief.
But is this any different to able-bodied actors playing disabled characters? Glee has a character using a wheelchair user portrayed by an able-bodied actor. How is this different? Looking further back, is this the modern day equivalent of the black and white minstrel band? , where white men would “black up” in order to portray black performers. This practice is now longer thought to be politically correct and is racially insensitive.
Of course, gay for pay is an established part of the porn industry, hitting a Google search reveals literally thousands of hits and literally thousands of straight guys willing to go “gay” for the first time. Of course, this is all construct, it’s a known fact that that gay porn pays more than straight porn it can be an attractive prospect to a broke young guy. Of course, there is the issue of exploitation, everybody involved are consenting adults and they have been paid for their involvement. Are the viewers’ being exploited in their desire to seek straight guys having sex, Yes, but that again comes down to personal choice. The beautiful thing about capitalism is that people are able to show how they feel about a commercial product by either purchasing it, and it looks like business is booming.
With porn, gay for pay is more problematic, the term implies that there is only straight or gay. It leaves no allowance for bi-sexuality, guys maybe willing to have sex with other men on screen for money but might not do so in their private lives. I personally feel that people’s sexual orientation is irrelevant when it comes to performance. The person is not representing himself or herself any more than someone in a film or a soap opera is. The sex for is there as spectacle and simulation. When watching two guys having sex it can be that there is no chemistry between the guys and they are going through the motions with only the paycheck in mind. Does it matter what someone is up too off screen or who they go home to?
So should we be offended by all of this? I think realistically if we are we’re not going about it in the right way, the best power against the entertainment industry is to vote with your money. If you believe that going gay for pay is morally wrong then don’t watch any of the films that mainstream Hollywood puts out. It may be the case that the best actor for the job is cast. The involvement of Marque names is to ensure the film is financed and made. For me it feels like a dangerous statement to say that only gay actors are allowed to play gay characters. What’s more important to the fans of Liberace that his story is told in an entertaining way by the best actors suitable to the role or that the actor playing him happens to be gay.

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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.