Game Of Thrones star Kit Harington has asked why there aren’t any openly gay leads in superhero films.
“There’s a big problem with masculinity and homosexuality that they can’t somehow go hand in hand,” Harington told Variety. “That we can’t have someone in a Marvel movie who’s gay in real life and plays some superhero. I mean, when is that going to happen?”
Harington is currently promoting The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, where he plays a closeted Hollywood actor. There have always been a lot of closeted actors in Hollywood – Harington’s co-star in the film, Thandie Newton, suggests the world of sports is one that people in the closet could take inspiration from.
“If you look at the sports industry [and] the few people who have stepped into their true selves in an uncompromising way – in ten years, the effect that that will have… [The world] is changing, but we have to get behind those changes.”
On Twitter, defenders of the Marvel films rushed to point out that there are gay and bisexual actors in those films – Lee Pace plays Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Captain Marvel, Tessa Thompson is Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok and, over on the X-Men side of things, Sir Ian McKellen is of course Magneto.
The issue isn’t that there aren’t any gay actors, though, it’s that the core roles in those films, the Iron Mans, Thors and Captain Americas of the world, would never have been offered to out gay actors.
The Marvel example might not be the best one – Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans are so perfect in those roles that it’s hard to imagine any other actors playing them. A better example is probably a frequently-recast but ultra-masculine role like Superman or Batman. Can you imagine an openly gay actor being cast as Batman? No matter how perfect they were for the role, it just wouldn’t happen.
We live in slightly more enlightened times than we once did, but you can see why an actor who could pass for straight would choose to remain in the closet. The Death and Life of John F. Donovan director Xavier Dolan, who identifies as queer, suggests that coming out brings its own difficulties.
Speaking of actors who have done it, he says “A lot of these people are my friends, and say ‘I’m now free, but I also know that I’m not going to get the career I once wanted. But I’m at peace with that because at least I can be who I am.” The vast majority of roles on offer are heterosexual, and it seems like as soon as an actor comes out, filmmakers decide audiences couldn’t possibly buy them as straight and there go their careers.
Zachary Quinto, Ellen Page and Wentworth Miller are all very successful, but not as successful as they once looked like they were going to be. Rupert Everett has said that coming out damaged his career prospects, telling the Telegraph, “The mainstream actor has had to become straighter and straighter.”
This only seems to apply to gay actors. Known straight actors play gay all the time and nobody minds – in fact, they’re frequently applauded for their ‘bravery’. Nobody said they couldn’t possibly take Call Me By Your Name seriously because they knew the actor Armie Hammer was married off-screen to a woman, or claimed Richard Jenkins’ scenes in The Shape Of Water where he talked about being gay were nonsensical because the actor has been married for fifty years (and based on the number of children he has, has had heterosexual intercourse at least twice). Harington himself is of course heterosexual and playing a gay man in his new film.
It’s great to see a straight actor like him pointing out the double standards for gay actors in Hollywood, but it’s worth remembering that Game Of Thrones, Harington’s main gig, hasn’t got the greatest track record in terms of gay onscreen talent. Despite lots of gay and bisexual characters – Oberyn Sand, Ellaria Sand, Yara Greyjoy, Renly Baratheon, Olyvar, Loras Tyrell – the only openly gay cast member is Kristian “Hodor” Nairn.
Nobody is arguing in favour of firing Robert Downey Jr and replacing him with a gay actor playing Iron Man. What’s being said is that, if Robert Downey Jr were gay, he would never have been offered a chance to try on the shiny suit in the first place.
One respondent to the Harington story when it was posted on Twitter claimed that he couldn’t imagine Rupert Everett playing Thanos. But, if Rupert Everett is the only out gay actor you can think of, isn’t something wrong? And why couldn’t he play Thanos – because he’s too gay? If the only way you can picture a gay actor in that role is mincing onto screen and shouting “Yas kween!” when he clicks his fingers, isn’t that a bit messed-up?
Things might be changing – Ezra Miller identifies as queer and is the Flash in the DC Extended Universe – but Hollywood is still at a point where a young gay actor would really have to think hard about being open about who they are, because it could cost them their career.
Something there is surely broken, and good on Kit Harington, a man lucky enough to be unaffected by the problem, for discussing it.