I’m glad Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black has weighed in on the controversial Newsweek article about gay actors playing straight.
Lance, who won the Academy Award for Milk and directed the upcoming film What’s Wrong With Virginia, participated in a follow-up article with GLAAD President Jarret Barrios. The two men spoke with Newsweek’s Culture Editor Marc Peyser.
Here are some excerpts from the interview highlighting some of what Lance had to say about the controversial article by gay writer Ramin Setoodeh:
“I’m just saying, I don’t know this writer, but it felt like this writer had a lot of issues with femininity and heterosexuality, and the connections between masculinity, femininity, and sexuality. It started getting blurred to me. The heterosexual people in America don’t seem to be having that problem with these performances, or seeing that, but this writer did. And to me it felt like it became more about this writer’s issues with sexuality and masculinity than it did the success of these performances.”
“…This article said something really different from what the real challenge is, which is making Hollywood a comfortable place for gay and lesbian people to come out and be able to play heterosexual roles. Which, let’s be honest: there are a lot more straight roles than gay roles out there. So I think that’s our end goal, to finally have those moments where we have openly gay and lesbian actors—and stars—playing straight roles. I think it’s already starting to happen, and I disagree with your writer in that I think that some of them are very believable, and very compelling. It only takes looking to Milk to know. In Milk we completely flipped the issue: we had openly gay people playing the straight people and the homophobes, and straight people playing the gay people.”
I would say that Neil Patrick Harris is starting to break that barrier down in a big way. He’s playing a heterosexual role on a big, successful television show. That said, I do understand that we need more than just [Neil] Patrick Harris, and it would be great to have that moment when you have a big A-list celebrity—a big star—who can greenlight a picture by adding his name to it, who is openly gay or lesbian. That is the moment we all want, that we’re all looking forward to, and I do believe it will happen. I’ll tell you what I see as some of the challenges. My perspective is that Hollywood directors and producers are very open to casting and working with openly gay and lesbian actors. Very open to it. I know that we intentionally sought them out when making Milk. I know that we’ve sought them out when working on other projects. The problem we’re finding is that the filter in Hollywood feels like it’s with the agents and managers. And namely with the ones who bring in new talent and start to foster new talent. And I think what they do is they feel like they’re taking a bigger risk with someone who’s out of the closet.”
“… When Jackie Robinson decided he was going to be the guy to step up and take on the challenge of being the first black player in the major leagues…there are many who could have done it before him. Was that easy? Of course not—that was a huge challenge. He had to suffer through the boos from the audience. He had to suffer through that and still perform well. And that’s what this actor will have to do. This actor will have to suffer through articles like this in NEWSWEEK, these sorts of things being said that are negative. But I think in the end, what they’ll be doing is paving this road toward equality in Hollywood where, yes, straight people can play gay roles and gay people can play straight roles. It will be work, but I think it’s important that someone do it so in 10 years it’s a given.”