Over the past two decades, we’ve seen LGBTQ+ films become commercially viable and critically acclaimed. Brokeback Mountain earned more Oscar nominations than any other film at that year’s award show. Tom Hanks, Sean Penn, Hilary Swank, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Plummer, and Jared Leto have all won prestigious awards for their portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters. In 2017, Moonlight, a film chronicling the life of a black man growing up in poverty in Miami, won the Oscar for Best Picture, and audience favorite, Call Me By Your Name, received the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2018.
And just last month, 20th Century Fox, released Love, Simon, the first film ever released by a major studio to center on a gay teenage romance.
I’m happy to see LGBTQ+ stories being told and celebrated. I’m happy knowing that young gay teens can go to the movies and see characters like themselves represented on the big screen. As a gay man who knew the word “fag” before ever knowing a gay person, it’s great to see the tides are turning and that LGBTQ+ people are becoming more visible and accepted.
But at the same time, I can’t embrace these films. I can’t embrace LGBTQ+ films that exclude LGBTQ+ actors. And it’s not because I think the sexuality of an actor should play a part in the casting process. It’s because we live in a world where LGBTQ+ stories are embraced, but the people who make up those stories aren’t.
In a perfect world, your sexual orientation would play no bearing on your career as an actor. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where straight actors can play gay characters whenever they want without losing credibility, but openly gay actors are forever typecast as gay characters. We live in a world where actors are told not to come out for fear of killing their careers. We live in a world where a cisgender actress like Hilary Swank can win an Oscar for portraying a transgender man who was raped and murdered, but actual transgender actors can’t get cast as anything other than background roles or sight gags.
We live in a world where straight, cisgender actors can masquerade around as marginalized groups and be praised for it as LGBTQ+ people are shunned from telling their own stories. And LGBTQ+ people deserve better.
I don’t think straight actors are incapable of playing LGBTQ+ roles convincingly, nor will I say that the people listed above were undeserving of their Oscars. But that’s not really the point. The point is that we don’t even afford LGBTQ+ people the opportunity to play these parts. For too long, we’ve let Hollywood dictate when and how we can tell our stories. We’ve let Hollywood frame the LGBTQ+ narrative in a way that’s disrespectful to our struggles and successes. Transgender people are more than tragic victims; cisgender gay men are more than just white and attractive hedonists; being LGBTQ+ is about more than coming out or facing discrimination. Our lives are just as rich and significant as anyone else’s, and we deserve to see stories that reflect that.
We deserve films like Tangerine and A Fantastic Woman, which both cast actual transgender actresses in transgender roles. We deserve films like Moonlight that remind us that not every LGBTQ+ story has to be centered on an attractive white gay man. We deserve films like Love, Simon, that show young gay teens that it’s okay to be a Simon or an Ethan. And we deserve to be the ones to tell these stories. We deserve to be the ones directing them, writing them, producing them, and starring in them.
It’s our stories, so let’s tell them.