Why must disney hire a gay actor for the first major gay role?

This topic contains 22 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Unseen 1 year, 5 months ago.

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    There is always a major push and pull among marginalized groups in how they are treated by the rest of society (or the privileged as some progressives call it). The push is the need to be treated just like anyone else. The pull is to have our differences known, respected and perhaps even celebrated. Most people seem to need the first (to be treated like anyone else) while the pull, to have DIFFERENCES celebrated is not as actively adopted or expressed by those of a group. The most common example is that of gay people not wanting to be called pejoratives like “fag” but as a person…and yet at the same time feeling it should be respected by the privileged that gay men CAN use that term, both as a term of empowerment “let’s go dancing fags”!!! or as a pejorative “I hate all these flamey drama queen fags here”! This is but one example.

    Jack Whitehall has been casted in the first major gay role in a  disney film. He is the next of many straight actors to play pioneering gay roles. He says he is honored to play the character. Some people’s first reaction are “this is great”, others is a more angry “why didn’t they find a gay actor” and my reaction is “why has it taken disney films this bloody long to include a gay role while the entire rest of Hollywood started doing that decades ago”? While others ask “is he going to play yet another stereotypical campey effeminate bitchy gay character? (a good question).

    In any case, there seems to be a bit of an argument amongst entertainment sites and forums and LGTB+ forums about why the actor isn’t a gay one. Arguments for it range from “openly gay actors are underrepresented in hollywood” (which is true to an extent but no reason to not accept a perfectly good actor who isn’t) and that “a gay actor can best portray a gay character” (which I think is an enormous load of bullshit). When people read a list of major actors who played gay roles…it’s really shocking how long it is, especially when so many play macho roles in typically action and thriller films:

    Antonio Banderas, James Woods, Robert Downey Jr., Forrest Whitacker, Steve Buschimi, James Gandolfini,  Patrick Stewart, Val Kilmer, Heath Leger, Matt Daymond,  Jake Gyllenal, Michael Douglas,  Greg Kinnear, Robin Williams, P. Seymour Hoffman, George Carlin, Sean Penn, James Franco, Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks, Collin Firth, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ewan McGregor, Daniel Radcliffe, , Mike Myers, Wesley Snipes, Hugh Grant, Richard Gere etc.

    A very relevant questions is…to what extent did these actors playing major gay roles in major hollywood films, normalise LGTB+ both on the screen and in real life?

    And even then, I’m not sure how important which actor plays which role is. It is after all called “acting”. A great actor can play any role if they are up to it. And all of the actors above did a phenomenal role playing characters from utterly soacking in flamey camp to the more masculine gay characters who conspicuously wanted to live their lies without discrimination.

    When I think about this problem through the principles of humanism, I find it very difficult to fault Disney for contracting a straight actor to play the first major LGTB+ character. They are, in this very long awaited and long time coming film, contributing to the normalization of LGTB+ in Western art and society and in the same sense treating the people who work in that process as no different from others, that is, not considering who is gay or straight when casting. As far as I’m concerned, they have finally joined the world of equality and inclusivity. To attack them for not picking a specific actor of a specific sexual orientation is, in theory…a good thing…no?

    But a vocal minority of LGTB+ are outraged by the sexuality of the actor casted and may succeed in having the actor changed, and in the process perhaps contribute gay actors to being type casted and have fewer straight actors helping to normalize LGTB+ (which has a long way to go). However there seem to be few asking a much more important question: Why did it take Disney so long…meanwhile excluding 5% of the male population from its films and roles for the last several decades?



    It is a step in the right direction and in the big picture, eventually a gay actor will play a major gay role as well.

    Your push/pull summary is a fantastic description of a very familiar dilemma to me as a privileged, white, straight male: the “I’m dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t” scenario. So I will not bring up topics or have discussions that have any chance of being misinterpreted. Not gonna get any “pull” from me at all if you play the race card or the gay card.

    If woman want to be treated equally and then two sentences later I hear “the first woman to…..” well… what is one to think?




    I should also admit I’ve used LGTB+ and gay men alternatively and that was a screw up on my part. Lesbian, bi-, trans and + all have it actually much harder than gay men in terms of being represented in major roles (as  well as being cast in any films). Much worse! In fact Scarlet Johanson was so attacked for accepting a trans. role she gave it up (saying at first she was honored to take the role but later that she was sorry for the offense and learnt a lot and agrees now a trans. actor should get the role). To what extent she meant that vs. running for her life to save her brand…only her closest friends know.



    A lot of people will view this as just a variation on “whitewashing.”


    • This reply was modified 1 year, 11 months ago by  Unseen.

    Would you believe it!! Turns out Matt Damon is not a secret agent with amnesia. He was just acting the part all along. Still I suppose a good secret agent has to be a good actor.

    It gets worse! It turns out that Tom Hanks was not a real lawyer in the movie “Philadelphia” and they gave him an Oscar for it!! What was that all about! Hanks should give it back because he never went to law school.

    I am looking forward to the new Disney movie “Frozen” as I believe it will have actual snowflakes in it.

    John Wick?? Nah, he’s the real deal!!



    “the first woman to…..”

    I’m not sure celebrating milestones is in itself counter to the idea of equality. If anything it is a reminder of just how difficult it is to break through in a job or role or position. This year, for example, the US House may have its first Native American woman representative. It is really hard to believe that for a few centuries there has never been a Native American woman candidate as worthy as others to represent a district. It’s utterly shocking that in the 21st century there STILL hasn’t been one elected (and it isn’t for not trying or not being qualified…previous candidates were). There has never been a Native American govenor at all, of any gender and there is a candidate this year. And as for the very few men who have been elected to congress they also serve highly disproportionately per their population and almost all of them were of mixed ancestry (with some white ancestors). It’s not for want of trying or for unqualified candidates. If their election was proportionate to the native american population then there should have been a lot of Native American representatives by now and many women. If the candidates are elected this November…it will be a milestone. By the way she is also LGTB+ so there will be a lot of “firsts”! It is news of interest because it says someone finally broke the barrier and it inspires others to try…thinking they may be taken seriously and have a real chance. I don’t think that is the same as some women who expect to automatically have a job because they are  a woman and there is a quota to fill. While the Western world may seem relatively equal now, relatively egalitarian…the barriers that people of marginalised groups face, are not an invention or fiction. Some people find it really really really difficult to believe that barriers still exist and that others are as open minded as they and their friends are. There have been many studies which show inherant bias against hiring women, non-western immigrants, overly gay men for jobs. For example several studies were done by having HR heads and headhunters screen candidates for jobs. When presented with resumés of women and men with gender neutral names (Pat, Jamie, Angel, Taylor), the selected candidates showed women were selected for the next round a little over 50% of the time. In the same test when the names were clearly gender specific, women made it to the next cut 30% of the time. And this wasn’t just about young entry roles but included jobs for people in which women would be well past child bearing age. The inherent bias was in there, even though it wasn’t overt or intentional. No individual was specifically or personally anti-woman or biased on purpose. This is why milestones are so important to some people. The first gay govenor of a state, that’s a milestone. It shows how normalised LGTB+ has made it (at least this far). Also a reminder of how many other milestones are left to come. On top of firsts, there is also the problem of very hostile enviroments to marginalised people entering a workforce or team. Not the kind of hasing or hard time or “joking around” all new people get. Objectively toxic very hostile enviroments.

    Having said all of this…it is unfair that you have to avoid a lot of topics of conversation and to be honest…you are probably quite smart doing it. When the conversation turns to expecting a specific event or job or position to be ONLY for people of a marginalised group, that’s not often the best idea. That isn’t the kind of equality they are seeking. Help, encouragement, financial support, extra training, strategies to break barriers and bias…okay. Entitlement…no. Again, you are wise (despite it being unfair) to watch your tongue on some things!



    “However there seem to be few asking a much more important question: Why did it take Disney so long…meanwhile excluding 5% of the male population from its films and roles for the last several decades?”

    From my perspective, that question has already been asked quite often. When Finding Dory, Zootopia, and the live action Beauty and the Beast were released, they all contained hints of queerness. This was a welcoming sign to some, but a significant disappointment to others. Why does Disney have to be so reticent with explicit representation? LGBT people are part of the ordinary fabric of society, yet we exist only in fleeting moments and implication in the Disney universe.

    The question has been raised many times on why it was taking so long. I’d wager many have just set their expectations much lower for Disney over the years. It’s a company which isn’t particularly antagonistic toward minorities, yet clearly wants to pander to where they believe the majority are most willing to spend their cash. Business first.

    Right now I wonder if many are just frustrated with the way Disney chose to join the party after taking so long. It doesn’t bury the frustrations with how long it took; it’s a byproduct of them.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 10 months ago by  Kristina.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 10 months ago by  Kristina.


    If woman want to be treated equally and then two sentences later I hear “the first woman to…..” well… what is one to think?

    My take: after hundreds of years–even thousands in some cultures, there’s still a lot of catching up left. Men have driven civilizations’ “progress” long, hard, and fast, but (imo) the human species will burn itself out unless we can intentionally build more empathy and nurturing into the process at large, e.g. with humanism.

    Patriarchies traditionally hold onto power. That’s just what they do, starting from way back in our animal past. We’re still stuck in this loop, which is really hard to break out of, given how traditions (like religion) are so strongly held, by both men and women.


    Kara Connor

    Having more actors from particular minorities helps others in productions get used to having people from those groups on productions, and that will typically result in the environment being more welcoming for everyone. As for celebrating “firsts”, the very fact that something is a “first” is indicative that there is a problem in a particular field, so there’s nothing wrong in celebrating a long-overdue start of change.

    With respect to the situation of having openly-gay actors play gay characters, it should be remembered that in addition to channeling their own experience into acting roles, actors also influence the script or portrayal. For far too long LGBT characters have been portrayed either very stereotypically, or as pathetic victims, or evil people. This has an effect back in the real world, where some people’s only knowing exposure to LGBT people is through the film and television. Representation matters, and typically those who don’t acknowledge that are from groups which already have an abundance of it, and are therefore blind to the problem. Having actors from underrepresented groups helps counterbalance that. It’s not like there is a shortage of roles for cis, straight men.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 5 months ago by  Kara Connor.

    Simon Paynton

    Sounds very sensible, Kara.



    As for celebrating “firsts”, the very fact that something is a “first” is indicative that there is a problem in a particular field, so there’s nothing wrong in celebrating a long-overdue start of change.

    Sounds OK on the surface. However:

    COUNTRIES WITH GREATER gender equality see a smaller proportion of women taking degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), a new study has found.

    Demanding equality of outcomes doesn’t make sense. Opportunity, yes. Now when I read about the first woman who drowns in a giant sewer tank, I will know we are getting somewhere. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.


    Kara Connor

    Cough, splutter, spit. Just removing the straw out of my mouth from your strawman argument, Robert. Nowhere did I “demand equality of outcome”. Nothing you said in any way invalidates celebrating firsts.



    Cough, splutter, spit. Just removing the straw out of my mouth from your strawman argument, Robert. Nowhere did I “demand equality of outcome”. Nothing you said in any way invalidates celebrating firsts.

    Ok good, because I have heard many argue that equal outcomes is the goal of achieving equality. There is a huge push to have more women in STEM in corporate America.  I don’t think it is fair.



    It’s called “acting” for a reason. Hell, wasn’t Yul Brynner (Hungarian) great as the King of Siam in The King And I? And Espera Oscar de Corti (Italian-American) played A Native American in many a Hollywood “B” Western under the stage name Iron Eyes Cody. What’s wrong with that?

    Jon Lovitz says it best:

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 5 months ago by  Unseen.


    Nathan Lane “The Birdcage”

    LOL Unseen: West Side Story: The only Puerto Rican was Rita Moreno. Everyone else did a great job of “Acting” like Puerto Ricans. I should know.

    If acting was so easy everyone would be Meryl Streep or Humphrey Bogart.

    Oh yeah! Laverne Cox!

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