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Gay Actors and Ramin Setoodeh: Setting the Record ‘Straight’

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Last April, Newsweek ran an article by author Ramin Setoodeh titled “Straight Jacket” in which Setoodeh implies that gay actors are unable to play straight roles convincingly. This week he ran a follow-up in the Daily Beast, in which he says he realized that his premise was wrong – while getting in a few not-so-subtle digs at his critics.

The Internet wasn’t happy with my line of thinking, and blogs twisted my words to suggest that I was homophobic. Hollywood’s gay elite joined in the attacks. Glee creator Ryan Murphy called for a boycott of Newsweek. Cynthia Nixon accused me of setting the gay-rights movement back 10 years. Alan Cumming said I was “a danger to us all, not just gay people... but everyone on the planet.” Perez Hilton posted pictures of me on his blog. I could not walk through New York’s gay neighborhoods without causing a stir.

Was I really a traitor to my own community? Before Promises, Promises closed on Broadway on Sunday, I bought a ticket and secretly went to see the show again. Once inside, I slumped down in my seat, afraid somebody would call the GLAAD police if I were spotted. The lights dimmed, and Sean Hayes opened the show alongside a troop of male dancers. When he sang about his passion for basketball, the men performed aerial splits. Then he started to pine after the office lunch lady (Kristin Chenoweth), and I realized that I had been all wrong.

First off, “GLAAD police?” Really?

More importantly, Setoodeh now says the real problem is that “Hollywood doesn’t even allow gay actors to play gay.”

But I think he’s missing the point again. Re-reading his original piece, I realized that in his criticism of gay actors in straight roles, all he was doing was talking about his own inability to accept those actors in those roles.

  • Sean Hayes "comes off as wooden and insincere, as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is."
  • Neil Patrick Harris and Portia DeGeneres "inhabit broad caricatures, not realistic characters."
  • Jonathan Groff "seems more like your average theater queen when he smiles."
  • Rock Hudson's performance in Pillow Talk "dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates."

This is no different from a person claiming that attractive people can’t convincingly play scientists.  This is not a problem with the actors. It’s a problem with Ramin Setoodeh. And it's at the root of both of his premises - first, that gay actors can't play 'straight,' and now, that gay actors are being shut out of all roles.

The good news is that while Ramin might share these hang-ups with some viewers, American audiences are becoming more accepting with every passing movie and TV season. And because of the trailblazing work of today’s openly LGBT actors, the next generation of actors - and audiences - will be amazed that this was ever an issue. Look no further than Amber Heard who came out (at our 25th anniversary event last month) at the age of 24, and will star as Johnny Depp’s love interest in the much anticipated film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary this year.

While Setoodeh and GLAAD are in agreement that we’d like to see more gay roles in Hollywood films (and not just the Oscar bait he focuses on), the solution isn’t to simply insert openly gay actors into those roles so Setoodeh can finally “believe” the performance. The simple solution is for gay roles to be played by strong actors, and gay actors to perform strong roles. Hopefully, the more common this becomes, the sooner viewers like Setoodeh will be able to set aside long held biases.

Setoodeh is certainly closer to the mark this time than he was last Spring, but the root of the problem isn’t with Hollywood – it’s with him. As he (and audiences in general) continue to become more able to appreciate the skills of actors no matter what their sexual orientation, this issue will fade away like a bad flashback scene.