In light of the digital release of Kate Winslet’s latest film Ammonite, which features a same-sex lesbian relationship, the status of the LGBTQ+ identity in Hollywood is seemingly under scrutiny. In a recent interview with the Sunday Times, Winslet drew attention to what she termed a ‘cultivated climate of fear’ in Hollywood regarding the publicity of actor’s sexualities. The Titanic actress asserted that within the Hollywood community, the sexuality of an actor or actress can heavily influence, and at time inhibit an individual’s career. Indeed, she notes that the ingrained homophobia of the industry, which is economically motivated to appease the heteronormative ideals of the status-quo, often places barriers in the way of homosexual, bisexual and transgender actors being fairly considered for a role.
Examples of this discrimination can be found without looking very far. Rupert Everett came out as homosexual in 1989 and since then has publicly declared how this decision effected his career. Gaining his first notable role in the 1984 homosexual period drama Another Country alongside Colin Firth.Everett has since stated that his openly gay sexual identity left him feeling ostracized and prevented him being casted in major Hollywood films such as the 2006 neo-noir thriller Basic Instinct 2, due to the way his sexual identity may taint the critical reception of the film. Winslet shared that she knows of at least four current Hollywood actors who currently conceal their sexual identities out of fear of suffering the same discriminatory prejudices as Everett. Likewise, a study conducted by UCLA academics found that a mere 13% of lesbian and gay actors had revealed their sexuality to industry executives.
The fear lies in the potential type-casting that may occur as a result of an actor coming out, whereby they may be denied heterosexual roles or exclusively offered queer ones. It is notable that heterosexual actors do not suffer the reverse of this prejudice and are repeatedly cast to play homosexual roles. Indeed, both Ronan and Winslet are openly straight, with this aspect of their sexual identity not preventing them being casted to play homosexual characters. Winslet acknowledged this disparity in her interview, stating that she is aware that her receiving the role simultaneously meant that it was denied to a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Despite her hopes that in the future homosexual roles will automatically be assigned to actors of the same sexual orientation, she asserted that the reality of the current situation is that the role would not have been offered to anyone else, and that by taking it herself, her status within the industry enabled her to gain some representation for queer individuals. Repeated instances of straight actors being assigned homosexual roles can be seen in multiple contemporary Hollywood films, such as the popularized piece of Indie Cinema, Call Me By Your Name, which stars the heterosexual actors Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, highlighting the normalization of this casting process.
Questions surrounding the ethics of casting straight actors in queer roles are seemingly unaddressed by Hollywood and mass media, leading Winslet along-side many others to call for a #MeToo style movement within Hollywood addressing the rights of homosexual actors and attitudes towards them. Indeed, recently attention had been drawn to the racial whitewashing of award ceremonies such as the Oscars and Baftas despite calls for more racial diversity in film and television. However, synonymous issues regarding the underrepresentation of the LGBTQ+ community are seemingly unaddressed despite the convocation’s necessity. In the upcoming award Bafta and Oscar award ceremonies there are no openly gay nominees in the major acting categories. This may be due to an ingrained social prejudice, but also may be due to the aforementioned lack of openly gay actors being currently assigned roles in Hollywood.
In an age of greater awareness around the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, the representation of social minorities on both the big and small screens is an essential component of political and social activism. Winslet is not alone in her frustration regarding the position of the LGBTQ+ community within Hollywood, with a revision of the community’s treatment being long overdue.