Disney has come under fire for choosing to cast Jack Whitehall, a straight man, as Disney’s first “openly gay” character, who is set to be “hugely effete, very camp and very funny.”
Members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as many others, have said that the role should be given to a gay actor and should avoid using unhelpful stereotypes for comedic effect.
— g (@eightlegsright) August 13, 2018
Without knowing any details about the plot of the movie, or much about the character that the British comedian is set to play, internet users have already been putting in their two cents regarding the moral weight of the decision. With Disney finally recognizing that queer people exist (if we’re not including the half-hearted ‘same sex dance’ in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast), why ruin this progressive moment with an ill-considered casting?
A dissenting voice against the wave of self-righteousness, Gary Nunn, wrote in The Guardian: “Not very long ago, a gay character leading a Disney film would have been unthinkable. Let’s give this moment the celebration it deserves.” Another argument that has been circulating is that many straight men, revered by the media and general public alike, have played gay characters to critical and popular acclaim. Where was the outrage at Hollywood’s golden boy, Timotheé Chalamet, for playing a teenage boy who falls in love with a man in Call Me By Your Name? Tom Hanks in Philadelphia? Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain? Of course, you could argue that these were all serious dramas and not comedic Disney movies – but then, what about Robin Williams in The Birdcage? Scarlett Johansson was vilified for being cast as a trans person in Rub & Tug, whereas Hilary Swank and Jared Leto won Oscars for doing the exact same thing. Why do we project our “wokeness” as and when we please?
Rupert Everett, however, has often spoken out about the difficulties of navigating Hollywood as a gay actor. He dubbed the film industry as “aggressively heterosexual”, who treat queer actors as second-class citizens – “the straights can play all the gay characters they want but the gays don’t get much of a chance to play any straight characters.” It seems clear that it is more the gesture of having a gay actor fulfil this first symbolic role, in this enormous franchise with a troubled past, that people would have appreciated; a true marker of change and diversity, rather than a half-hearted attempt to fix decades of a whitewashed, heteronormative storylines.
Words by Steph Green