Watching the trailer for new romantic drama Supernova last week, I had two conflicting thoughts.
Firstly, ‘Have I, without realising, been waiting all my life to watch Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth cuddle and spar in chunky jumpers? Maybe I have!’
And secondly, ‘Ah, look. Surprise, surprise. Another gay love story in which the two leads are played by men widely believed to be straight.’
I’m excited but exhausted at the same time, and a quick glance at Twitter tells me I’m not alone.
‘Give queer actors queer roles but also I would die for this couple played by straight men who will definitely do nothing more than hug in sweaters,’ wrote one person.
Another posted: “Why do all the [queer] movies have to be tragic with straight actors???” she says, fully ready to cry over Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci wearing sweaters and being in love in the Lake District.
(Wow, we’re really all just excited for the knitwear in this thing, huh?)
It’s a tricky situation: Supernova doesn’t seem to be a particularly high-profile blockbuster, so it’s not quite on the same level of exposure as, say, Jack Whitehall as Disney’s first ‘properly’ gay character, or Joe Russo popping up to talk about a male date for a few seconds in Avengers: Endgame.
However, it is, as some have pointed out, the sort of film that could play extremely well at awards ceremonies next year – at which point we might have to watch, yet again, as straight actors are celebrated for ‘playing gay’.
But here’s the good news. Supernova doesn’t seem to be a ‘coming out’ story. It hasn’t required Tucci or Firth to put themselves in the position of people coming to terms with their sexuality – or struggle as other people come to terms with it.
Judging by the pre-release materials and synopses, we meet their characters – Tusker and Sam – when they’re already in a long-term relationship that’s completely accepted by everyone around them; and while being openly queer does affect many aspects of an LGBTQ+ person’s day-to-day life, it doesn’t look like their sexuality is necessarily part of the plot.
The argument, some would say, is that they’re playing a couple in love and the fact that they’re both men is incidental.
Look, I certainly don’t judge any queer people who are rolling their eyes and deciding against supporting a film that could have cast two wonderfully talented gay leads, but didn’t.
For what it’s worth, though, I personally think it’s important to support what queer representation we do get (provided it’s actually, you know, good; and not a half-arsed will-this-do checkbox exercise like that embarrassing Beauty And The Beast furore). The truth is that the industry is driven by money more than anything else and if studios can see that there’s an audience for LGBTQ+ stories, they’ll continue to green-light more.
But even though I’m sure Tucci and Firth will do an exceptional job, and I am looking forward to seeing this already critically-acclaimed movie, that doesn’t mean I’m completely forgetting the whole casting debate altogether.
Now I am well aware that, for many people, the bottom line is that acting is acting. ‘The whole point of the profession is to portray other people; to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes,’ they say. And I certainly don’t think that straight actors should be banned from playing non-heterosexual characters full-stop.
But for me (speaking as a reasonably privileged cisgender white gay man), the crux of the matter is that, while straight actors can often get cast in queer lead roles, the same isn’t true in reverse: queer actors (especially those who are trans) barely ever get cast as straight leads. So if they’re not getting cast as queer leads either… what lead roles can they get?
I actually think Glenn Close summed it up very well, during a Hollywood Reporter round-table in 2018. ‘I think first of all that what we are up to is a craft. And in your craft you should be able to – within a certain reasonable parameter – play anyone,’ she said.
‘I also think, though, that there are diverse actors and actresses that have not been served. So I think it’s up to the industry to nurture those actors. Nurture the trans actors, the people who don’t get a chance because they’re not “out there”. And then the best person for the part should play it.’
Supernova for one seems (by mainstream movie standards, at least), to be relatively low-budget. Would it be turning heads and hitting headlines without top-tier A-listers like Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth? Probably not.
So the issue is bigger than this one film; the issue is that the industry needs to – as Close said – nurture queer talent so that, one day in the not-too-distant future, there will be a more diverse pool of household names to choose from, for all movies, and it won’t be so noticeable when gay actors can’t even land gay parts.
Of course, this would be a totally different conversation if Supernova’s characters were trans: cisgender gay representation in the media has come a long way in recent decades, and if audiences don’t have a gay friend or relative or colleague, most will at least have a chuckle at Rylan or Sandi Toksvig on the telly, or fully accept a same-sex couple on their favourite soap.
Mainstream trans representation, on the other hand, is still a long way behind (give the documentary Disclosure a spin on Netflix if you’re even remotely unclear on why cis actors get backlash when they’re cast in trans roles). We’d be in full-on boycott territory if this film had actors like Firth and Tucci putting on a performance of transness instead of hiring actual trans people.
But as it is, I will be unashamedly weeping along to Supernova when it’s released next month.
In fact, I might even make it my first mid-coronavirus cinema visit – and if that’s not a seal of approval, I don’t know what is.
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Credit: Original article published here.