On May 11, EW.com posted a letter from Hollywood producer Ryan Murphy, an openly gay man, who called for a boycott of Newsweek magazine based on an article it published on April 26 that criticized an actor on Murphy's TV show, as well as other openly gay actors. GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, immediately responded and called on Newsweek to apologize for publishing this article.
In case you didn't read it, the article was "Straight Jacket" by Ramin Setoodeh. It commented on Sean Hayes who is gay in real life but who is currently playing a straight role in the Broadway show Promises, Promises. It also commented on Jonathan Groff, another openly gay actor who is currently playing a straight high school teen on Murphy's FOX series Glee. Setoodeh says that he thinks those two homosexuals were not believable as hetereosexuals.
Kristin Chenoweth is a singer and actress who has worked with both Hayes and Groff and she responded to Setoodeh's article in The Advocate. There, she called Setoodeh's article "horrendously homophobic." Gay and media blogs took up the story and caused a bit of an online firestorm.
The firestorm got so hot that Setoodeh wrote a response for Newsweek, and in that response, he cites a New York Times theater review, which didn't believe Hayes' performance either. The New York Times critic didn't outrightly say that Hayes' real-life homosexuality was the reason. Setoodeh merely inferred that.
Setoodeh wrote that he never meant to disparage any of the actors in his article. He instead wanted to raise the question of why people don't accept openly gay actors in straight roles, and apparently he's one of such people.
The problem is, besides Setoodeh's own limited observations, there is no real evidence or solid examples to support the claim that gay actors can't play straight. Setoodeh went on MSNBC and addressed this issue directly. He stood by his position and at the end of the TV interview said that he hopes more actors who are gay come out of the closet. What Setoodeh didn't realize, and Michael Slezak of EW.com pointed this out, is that Setoodeh may want gay actors to come out of the closet but his "Straight Jacket" article doesn't foster that.
In his statement on the issue, GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios concurred with Slezak when he wrote that "the harmful attitudes of writers like Setoodeh" can be used to pressure gay actors to stay closeted. Amanda Bearse, lesbian actress and director, also made the same point to Setoodeh when they talked about it on HLN's The Joy Behar Show. Columnist Dan Savage was on that same program and half-supported Setoodeh, saying that his point about certain audiences, perhaps those outside of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other big urban centers, not buying an actor playing a straight role on screen who they knew was really gay might be valid.
Yet, it's all speculation. Setoodeh does no polling. He has no research that realistically analyzes this issue.To his defense, there isn't much empirical or statistical data for him to find anyway. The idea of openly gay actors playing straight roles is an idea that's only recently come about.
In his article, Setoodeh recalls Brokeback Mountain, which some would argue was the first mainstream movie to be about gay characters. The actors in that movie were straight, but it was arguably the first mainstream film to bring the issue of homosexuality and especially gay bigotry into the American dialogue, that and the movement for gay marriage waged during the 2004 presidential election. If it took that long just for this issue to be addressed in a mainstream film, then you'd be hard-pressed to find data to support or even refute Setoodeh's claims.
Now, I think the online firestorm came from people believing that Setoodeh meant that the reason openly gay actors can't play straight was because the actors weren't good enough to pull it off. In his MSNBC appearance, Setoodeh said that that wasn't the case. He thinks gay actors are good actors. It's simply that his nitpicking of Hayes and Groff didn't help his cause.
Sean Hayes was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance. Jonathan Groff was also nominated for a Tony Award three years ago for playing a straight role. Both Hayes and Groff's shows have been successful. If there's any empirical evidence to this issue, it would have to be that. At least the actors Setoodeh mentions can take comfort in the fact that his article is based on no empirical evidence, no polling and no substance at all. It was all his own nitpicky opinion.
I, as a film critic, am occasionally guilty of that. Unlike others online, I will not call Setoodeh names. I respect him in his honesty and his standing up to attackers. I just wish he had written his article a little differently.
I do have one final note for Setoodeh. Surfing the Web site UrbanDictionary.com, I came upon an interesting term. It's called "straight acting." According to the Web site, "straight acting" describes a homosexual man whose behavior resembles that of a hetereosexual man or else it's a gay man with conventionally masculine traits. It could refer to men who are in the closet or who keep their homosexuality private.
However, there was a documentary that aired on LOGO, the digital cable channel dedicated to gay and lesbian programming. The documentary was called The Butch Factor. It was about gay men who were "straight acting" but who were not keeping their sexuality secret. Many of these men testified that a lot of people assume they're straight and even when people are told the truth, these men are still perceived as not fitting the gay stereotypes.
If these gay men are perceived as "straight acting" within their own community, it's more than likely that as actors they would be believed as such too.