I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV! This week was wall-to-wall rainbow news, with GLAAD’s annual TV report noting record highs for LGBTQIA+ representation and shows like “Will & Grace” and “Supergirl” creating shining moments for their gay and trans characters. But things got heated for critically acclaimed actor Cate Blanchett, who found herself in hot water this week over her views about straight actors playing LGBTQIA+ roles. Let’s talk LGBTQIA+ representation, and the issues we still have to tackle in TV and film.
LGBTQIA+ Representation On TV Soars…And Cate Blanchett Misses The Point
This week ushered in good news for LGBTQIA+ representation in TV. GLAAD’s “Where We Are On TV” report notes that the percentage of LGBTQIA+ series regulars has increased from 6.4% to 8.8%, a record high. Not only that, but there are now officially more LGBTQIA+ people of color (50%) than white LGBTQIA+ folx (49%), a first in TV history. Overall, the numbers point to more LGBTQIA+ roles that aim for three dimensional, diverse storytelling which leaves tokenism in the past.
But as the world of TV moves that much closer to diverse LGBTQIA+ representation, the film still struggles with how best to tell LGBTQIA+ stories, and who is allowed to do so. Cate Blanchett earned major backlash this week for her support of straight actors playing gay roles, asserting that she “will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience.”
Speaking at a Q & A at the Rome Film Festival, Blanchett continued:
“Reality television and all that that entails had an extraordinary impact, a profound impact on the way we view the creation of character. I think it provides a lot of opportunity, but the downside of it is that we now, particularly in America, we expect and only expect people to make a profound connection to a character when it’s close to their experience.”
If we lived in a world where audiences could be sure that the best actor, gay or straight, received their roles based on merit, this wouldn’t be a controversial statement. Actors are meant to walk around in other people’s shoes. In a perfect world, Blanchett would be right: playing roles beyond an actor’s life experience is in the job description.
But LGBTQIA+ actors aren’t getting the same chances as straight actors. In fact, we barely get any chances when it comes to film. The majority of the time, queer stories who make it to the box office are portrayed by straight casts. Fifty-two straight people have received Oscar nominations for playing gay characters, but an openly gay actor has never won the Academy Award for Best Actor, according to the BBC.
We have to acknowledge that the opportunities to play fascinating, complex characters (like Blanchett’s own role in “Carol”) most often go to straight actors, and Blanchett’s statements gloss over that. Sure, we can connect to a single character no matter the actor’s personal experience, if they’re able to suspend disbelief; but when it’s almost all straight actors trying to portray LGBTQIA+ people, it’s a glaring, obvious lack of equality and actual respect for queer stories. If we’re not there in a tangible way if the majority of queer stories are told by straight voices, how is that true representation? We care about gay actors playing gay roles because it’s still a rare occurrence in film. It’s disappointing to see Blanchett misunderstand why LGBTQIA+ folx want to see gay actors in gay roles.
“Will & Grace’s” Emotional Moment in “Who’s Sorry Now?”
And now, back to TV. “Will & Grace’s” writing team has been knocking ’em out of the park since the series returned to NBC. This week’s installment, “Who’s Sorry Now?” is one of my favorites so far. We got Jack and a harebrained scheme (he’s a psychic now?) that ends up causing a spooky Rosie/Karen reunion from beyond the grave, giving us time to enjoy the glory that is the Jack/Karen friendship. But the big stars of the episode are Grace and Will, who finally talk about their sort-of unresolved love affair of decades past.
Unearthing a box of love letters, they relive the haze of their college romance, when Will was still in the closet and Grace was utterly clueless. Reminiscing stirs up emotions for both of them, especially when Will discovers that Grace never read his apology letter, in which he agonized about breaking her heart. Some fighting later, Grace finally sits down to read the letter. And she’s absolutely crushed.
Here, we finally get some relationship growth for the show’s titular characters, whose normal dynamic of emotional Grace/apologizing Will is linked back to their breakup. Grace finally gets pasts her own feelings, understanding the pain and turmoil Will went through during that time. The letter reveals he wished he was “normal” and thought about hurting himself. The narrative of the broken straight girl wronged by the gay man “leading her on,” is finally laid to rest by the “new smart Grace,” as she puts it, realizing that all Will did was be himself. The scene is a somber, touching note for the series, which continues to combine comedy and plot movement without feeling too contrived. If Jack were here, he’d probably be seeing shiny golden awards in “Will & Grace’s” future.
“Supergirl’s” Nia Nal Smacks Down Racists
Let’s end on a high note, which is all thanks to Nicole Maines’ new role as Nia Nal on “Supergirl” at The CW. “Fallout” is an apropos name for this week’s episode, which focused on the general havoc in the “Supergirl” ‘verse as President Marsdin steps down. Mercy continues her anti-alien crusade and shuts down Lena’s imager inducer tech, outing aliens planet-wide. This, unfortunately, includes Brainy, who’s in the middle of picking up pizzas at a local pizza shop.
Nia, who rushes in to grab a coffee, befriends the alien just before his transducer cuts out. Shop owner Massimo, who’d previously been Brainy’s friend, sees Brainy’s true form and snaps, yelling as his staff-turned-mob comes out wielding bats. Nia, horrified, jumps in and summons her powers of journalism, threatening to write up the incident if they don’t back off and give Brainy his pizzas.
This alone would have been incredible imagery for a superhero TV show: a trans woman standing up against racist bullies and using her privilege as a journalist to protect others. Who needs a cape when you’re that badass? But Nia goes further than that. After ensuring Brainy gets his pizzas, Nia returns to CatCo and explains what just happened to her boss, asking him to write an op-ed defending aliens. In a conversation that’s as poised and brave as Maines is in real life, Nia reveals she’s a trans woman who knows what it’s like to be hated. She can’t stand by while others are attacked for being who they are, and neither should James.
That conversation, and this episode, are why LGBTQIA+ representation matters. Because a trans superhero (played by a trans actress) just became a role model for gay, straight, trans, and cis youth alike, long before she dons a cape. And her stance against bullies, though they may be fictional, will give kids the courage to stand up for what’s kind, fair and right in the chaotic world of 2018.
How do you feel about straight actors playing LGBTQIA+ roles? Let me know in the comments below!