Ramin Setoodeh's article "Straight Jacket" in Newsweek magazine asked the questions: "Can gay actors play straight characters? Do you really believe them?" The media controversy that followed made it clear that, as a culture, people are all too willing to make snap judgments about others. It's time to get real and have an open, honest and compassionate dialog about homosexuality.
I find the recent controversy created by Ramin Setoodeh's article "Straight Jacket" in Newsweek to be quite fascinating. But it's frustrating to see the debate being reduced to political talking points when it has the potential to fuel deeper and more authentic conversations about homosexuality—not just in the entertainment industry, but in our culture in general.
In the article, Ramin shares his critical assessment of actor Sean Hayes' portrayal of Chuck in the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises. Sean, from the hit comedy TV show Will and Grace, recently came out of the closet and publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, but his character in the Broadway show is straight. Ramin writes: "It's weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, as if he's trying to hide something, which of course he is."
He goes on to make the larger point that there seems to be a double standard in Hollywood and in the entertainment industry as a whole—straight actors can play gay roles and are often rewarded for it (for example, Tom Hanks won an Oscar® for his role as a gay man with AIDS in the film Philadelphia 16 years ago), but gay actors have a tough time landing straight roles (especially starring ones). When they do, they aren't taken seriously because, Ramin says, people can't get beyond the fact that they're gay in real life.
He ends his article by writing: "If an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet tomorrow, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It's hard to say. Or maybe not. Doesn't it mean something that no openly gay actor like that exists?"
As soon as the article appeared in the May 10, 2010, issue of Newsweek, the blogosphere and the media were ablaze with posts, interviews and commentary about how homophobic and offensive it was. Kristin Chenoweth, Sean's co-star and female love interest in Promises, Promises, wrote a passionate response to Ramin's piece, praising Sean's performance, expressing disappointment with Ramin for writing it and with Newsweek for publishing it, and defending the rights of gay actors to play any kind of roles they want.
Kristin, a longtime and vocal supporter of equal rights for gays and lesbians, wrote: "This article offends me because I am a human being, a woman and a Christian. For example, there was a time when Jewish actors had to change their names because anti-Semites thought no Jew could convincingly play Gentile."
Mike shares how the article affected him personally