A Response to The New York Times
So, I saw this production. As an aside, what this writer doesn't mention is that Adrian Lester also portrays at least one Black character. And not for nothing, in a four hour play about the exploitation of labor in the industrialization of American labor, there’s only the brief appearance of this Black character.
I'm a gay writer, and have been a gay actor, so I feel some degree of authority to comment on the outrageous claim of a "double standard." It's this:
It's not so much that a straight actor can't convincingly portray a gay character. Jake Gyllenhaal gave what might be my favorite film performance of all time in Brokeback Mountain. And for his pains, every time a movie comes out and he's interviewed, he has to suffer questions about the “bravery” it took for him to play a gay role. (On some level it’s a legitimate question because the LGBTQ+ community gets one big-budget representation a decade, so there’s always a lot riding on the performance.) And every time I've seen him respond, he does it with grace and respect. He can legitimately claim to have contributed to the humanizing of gay men in America. More so than I can.
But he's still not a gay man.
If there’s a gay actor with the stature of Jake Gyllenhaal, I can’t think of him. The point is a straight actor is entitled to play a gay character, but there’s no reciprocity.
When was the last time you saw Billy Porter play a straight character? (I believe Lola in Kinky Boots is straight, but he's also in a wig and heels.) And to that point, when was the last time you saw Billy Porter or Mario Cantone play characters that weren't specifically about being gay. The character isn't incidentally gay. The character is explicitly GAY!
What would it mean if Matt Bomer had played Jack Twist? I contend you could swap out Henry Cavill for Matt Bomer and the only thing you’d notice is that the level of acting has improved. Matt Bomer could play any role Henry Cavill has played, but the reverse is not true.
A black actor will play Superman before a gay one will. And we all know how likely that is.
Having authentic representation in major roles doesn’t mean authenticity in a performance. It means visibility. It means credibility. It means normalization for those who are otherwise exotic. When Andrew Scott can play Hamlet as a gay character and it’s still Hamlet. Andrew Garfield plays Prior Walter, and it’s no longer about a gay character at the end of the twentieth century. It’s about a documented straight heartthrob daring to play an effeminate gay man.
When Andrew Garfield can play Prior Walter and it’s no longer brave, or a novelty;
when Matt Bomer can play Superman without an uproar;
when Hermione can be played by a Black woman without Harry Potter fans losing their minds;
when very Jewish Bette Midler can be cast as anything other than Dolly Levi (to be replaced by very WASPy Bernadette Peters on Broadway – what? Linda Lavin wasn’t available?)
then we can lay the question of Helen Mirren playing Golda Meier to rest.
Until that day comes, representation matters. Sure, let actors act. But let ALL of the actors act.