The topic of whether straight actors should play gay characters has been a hot debate that has become even more prevalent in the last few years.
The latest actor to weigh in is Neil Patrick Harris, who recently told The Times,
“I’m not one to jump onto labeling. As an actor, you certainly hope you can be a visible option for all kinds of different roles.”
He added that he “would definitely want to hire the best actor” for a role.
Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion, but Neil seems to be missing the point.
One of the main arguments against straight actors taking gay roles is that many gay actors are often overlooked or even considered ineligible for straight roles due to stereotypes. Many gay and queer actors are considered “too gay” or “too effeminate” to even audition for straight roles.
Neil is privileged since society has decided that he can “pass” as straight. He’s been cast in numerous straight roles before, including womanizer Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother.
But there are many gay actors who don’t have that luxury.
“Being black and gay and out came with a lot of unemployment. It’s a double layer, the layer of being a person of color in this industry then the layer of being a queen. Nobody can see you as anything else. If ‘flamboyant’ wasn’t in the description of the character, no one would see me, ever, for anything.”
Billy later added,
“[It] wouldn’t be so enraging if it went the other direction, but it doesn’t. Because straight men playing gay, everybody wants to give them an award.”
“So here I sit, I can’t get the gay parts, I can’t get the straight parts.”
For actors like Billy Porter — and there are many of them — they already have so few roles open to them. So when straight actors take gay roles, they are potentially taking away parts from gay actors who are already struggling to get their foot in the door.
“It comes down to masculinity. We accept a masculine actor, playing effeminate, and in fact, we’ll reward him for it greatly. And when the opposite happens, when someone’s presented themselves as flamboyant, or more effeminate, as an actor, or as a person, tries to do the opposite, it’s almost thought of as a joke.”
In a perfect world, any actor could take any role. After all, acting is all about pretending to be someone you’re not, right?
But this isn’t a perfect world. And roles for more “effeminate” gay actors are limited. And for a straight actor who may have the world at his fingertips, who may have a huge selection of roles to choose from, they should think hard about what roles they choose to take. What they do affects their fellow actors. And they should, at the very least, be aware of that.