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Gay 'blacking up'
Gay 'blacking up'

I use this phrase to infer white actors 'blacking up' to play black people. My question is, can straight actors portraying gay people be compared to this?

Some weeks ago, in a weekend supplement, Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons and Hercules and Love Affair, commented that it angered him to see straight actors playing gay roles. His argument was that gay people have a better understanding (obviously) of how it is to be gay, and are likely, therefore, to portray it better. He also believed that straight people taking gay roles could deny gay actors the chance to take it, marginalising them.

There was much response in correspondence to this- some agreed with him, while others did not. Some argued that actors are trained in portraying a fiction, so there is no conflict in a straight person 'acting gay'; others remarked that if what he says is correct, surely it is logical that gay actors may not play straight people, which surely would greater marginalise gay actors.

It is my view that his comments appear to imply that being gay is something that impacts upon ones entire being, persona or presentation. I am not gay, so I am sure he is better but qualified to comment. However, to my mind, while being gay can be an important part of ones identity, a lot of the time, for example when at work, when doing chores, socialising with a mixed group etc, homosexuality it not neccessariliy something that impacts or visably presents itself, as, say, race or disability may. Sexuality is mainly apparent in the context of relationships, and surely most on screen relationships are acted rather than based on real feelings. Therefore to me straight actors can easily play gay people and vice versus.

Conversly, I think it is probably better that black actors play black characters and disabled actors play disabled characters, rather than have people 'black up' for the role. I suppose that is because the way race and disability are apparent or present themself, and also the fact that these groups may be excluded from the majority of mainstream roles (usually white, not disabled). That is not to say other actors can't explore issues around disability and race in film.
I am unsure how consistent my views are, this is just my initial response. What do you think?

Good subject, Lilmy. As we seem to have understood, human sexuality is very diverse and on a scale of one to ten, anyone could be anywhere in between totally straight and totally gay... so I don't know if it would be fair to deny so called straight actors / actresses the right to take on parts that are meant to portray gay characters.
For one thing, acting is a job of imitation, and the better you imitate, the better an actor you are, right? Gay men often act like straights because they maybe consider it safer for their comfort. I think if an actor is a bad one, s/he'll never portray a gay character well if s/he isn't gay, but if an actor is sensitive and sensitive also to his other side (the feminine or the masculine) then s/he can make a very good job of a part.
I don't mind that straight actors can play gay parts any more than I think gay actors should be denied straight roles (definitely more of those around for them to play, aren't there?)
So is it the same as whites pretending to be blacks? I'm not sure. But the colour of your skin may define what sort of person you are and how you think, so not being one colour or the other might not give you that insight. Sexuality, on the other hand, is something we all share in different ways and to a certain extent, so I'm not sure it's the same thing.

Interesting discussion, even though I thought we already had one of these under way Rolleyes

Is not the actor's craft to fool us into suspending disbelief? The logical outcome of allowing only certain "types" to play particular roles is to create a ghettoised profession. Isn't the real problem rather that there aren't a diverse enough range of roles for actors to get their teeth into? If we say that a gay role can only be played by a gay person doesn't that tend also to typecast that actor? What of the sad case of the actor who isn't out?

I would be quite happy to see all roles open to all, but until there is some fairness in the availability of actors and roles I think we shall continue to see, for example, disabled people, playing pretty much exclusively disabled roles.

As it happens I am sure that casting directors spend hours perusing "Spotlight" to find the physical type they envisage for their productions, so why wouldn't they want someone with particular features or characteristics? As I mentioned in the other thread, as long as the production doesn't perpetuate stereotype through mockery, poor acting or direction I would be prepared to rely on the physical presence and skill of the actor to pull me into the story. Heretical maybe, but I would not have a problem with seeing, for example, a white (and not blacked up), or a female, Othello if the acting pulled me in. To what extent a director would be brave enough to leave alone or tinker with the Bard's words might be a bit of an issue though! However I can see an argument from actors of African origin that the pool of substantial roles would shrink if such were the case.

I'd rather have a good actor, even if he is straight, play a gay character than a mediocre actor, who is gay, play that character. Just for example, I thought Colin Firth did a fantastic job as the protagonist in A Single Man.

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

Actors act.
They pretend to be someone they are not....
Sure they maybe able to play the part better if they share similarities with the role.
But it is STILL acting, and i think any actor is deserving of a role if they can do the role justice.
Silly Sarcastic So-and-so

Agree wholeheartedly with Fred and David here... but we seem to think it's the performance of the actors not the actors life experience that counts. (in this context)

@ Fred, I know! Aren't there some really bad actors out there (gay or not)

Oh cringe! How did I fail to notice that? Hmm, oh well, thanks for the great responses.

Incidently, the film 'A Mighty Heart', starring Angelina Jolie as a mixed race woman, was on the other night. I remember some criticism of this at the time, however I heard (well, wikipedified, ha!) that, based on a true story, the woman she depicted, chose her personally to portray her. Maybe that justifies it? Perhaps also the fact that the character was quite 'light' makes it different some how? Maybe the fact that she plays the role in a respectful and considered manner, rather than a 'minstrel' style stereotype? Hmm

Thanks Lilmy, the question was worth asking anyhow.

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