Should straight actors be telling LGBTQ stories?
Anchor Staff Writer
With the announcement of this year’s Golden Globe nominees, there have been several controversies. Among these are Netflix’s latest installment of ambient television (TV shows that better function as background noise than anything worth being invested in). Emily in Paris received nominations over groundbreaking shows like I May Destroy You. The nomination of Sia’s film Music which attempts to depict an autistic girl, but only consulted with the organization Autism Speaks (which is largely considered to be a hate group) has been condemned by the majority of the autistic community as extremely offensive. Another controversy that has sparked a larger conversation is the nomination of James Corden for his role as Barry Glickman in The Prom.
Some are simply sick of the “pandemic” of James Corden being cast in movie musicals, while others have a larger issue with the nomination of Corden, a heterosexual man playing what many have deemed an offensive portrayal of a gay man, being nominated for an award. Frankly, awards shows have demonstrated countless times their biases against people of color, women and the LGBTQ community. It’s not new information and at this point, it’s clear that what an academy has to say does not legitimately denote what is good art. But the controversy surrounding James Corden’s nomination has sparked a larger conversation surrounding whether or not straight actors should be telling LGBTQ stories at all. Many agree that only queer actors should tell queer stories. I do not.
There are two significant problems with this criticism of “inauthentic casting.” The first is that not every queer person is out. By limiting LGBTQ art to only those openly LGBTQ, artists who are closeted or just uncomfortable with disclosing information about their personal lives are forced to out themselves or be excluded from creating queer narratives. After author Becky Albertalli, a writer of several LGBTQ young adult novels was accused of exploiting the LGBTQ community, she was forced to out herself as bisexual. Most members of the LGBTQ community know how traumatizing this can be and that nobody should ever be forced to come forward with their sexuality when they are not ready.
The second issue with the idea that only LGBTQ people should portray LGBTQ narratives is that it keeps everyone who does not consider themself queer from getting exposure that they might not otherwise. For example, actress Diana Silvers portrayed Hope, the love interest for main character Amy, in the 2019 film Booksmart and admitted in an interview that their storyline made her reconsider her own sexuality. Not every LGBTQ person knows inherently that they are LGBTQ and learning about themselves through art can be a powerful thing that should not become inaccessible.
Should James Corden have been nominated for the Golden Globe then? Absolutely not. His casting was a painfully obvious case of stunt-casting and his portrayal did not deserve a nomination. However, the consequences of insisting only openly queer actors get to portray queer stories serves to exclude the closeted and the questioning. Centering straight artists in queer narratives is the problem, not casting actors who are not openly queer. We see this very centering in the fact that Corden was nominated for a mediocre-at-best performance while lesser-known queer actresses and leads of The Prom, Jo Ellen Pell and Ariana Debose, were both snubbed.
There is nothing inherently wrong with being open about who is cast for LGBTQ roles if the actor truly suits the role and portrays their character in a meaningful way. Artists learning about and becoming more comfortable with their identities while creating art can be a beautiful thing. There is, however, a problem with ignoring LGBTQ actors and creators in favor of prioritizing well-known straight actors in the roles of queer characters and that is what we as a society need to be actively condemning.