Is “straightwashing” the new “whitewashing”?

Llimiting actors to their sexual demographic is not the way forward: it would hurt LGBTQ+ actors far more than it would straight ones

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Darren Criss, the heterosexual male actor, famous for playing the gay character Blaine Anderson in Glee, has announced he will not be taking on any more gay roles: “I want to make sure I won’t be another straight boy taking on a gay man’s role.” 

The debate has been widely discussed by gay actor Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films. Hollywood has huge issues with inequality regarding sexuality, as well as other issues such as gender and race. A gay man has never won the Academy Award for best actor, while straight actors, such as Tom Hanks (1993) and Sean Penn (2009) have received them for playing LGBTQ+ characters. The advocacy group, GLAAD, also reported that only 12.8% of mainstream films contained LGBTQ+ roles.

McKellen argues that, “Hollywood has mistreated women in every possible way throughout its history”, that “Gay men don’t exist” in Hollywood, and that it “only recently discovered that there were black people in the world”. 

Controversy ensued earlier this year when Scarlett Johansson was criticised for taking on a transgender role in the movie Rub and Tug. The character Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, born Jean Gill, was meant to transition throughout the movie. She dropped out in July, saying, “Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and… [I] realize [the casting] was insensitive.” 

However, the same director, Rupert Sanders, worked with her on the remake of the Japanese anime classic Ghost in the Shell, where she played an originally Asian character. Many saw the roles as a continuance of taking on roles she “shouldn’t” with comedian Faith Choyce saying, “Scarlett Johansson is playing a trans man in her next movie because her ultimate career goal is to take an acting job from a member of each and every marginalised group.”

The term “whitewashing” was followed up by accusations of “straightwashing” and of upholding the predominance of heterosexual and white professionals in Hollywood. Nonetheless, there were arguments that limiting the acting ability of straight men to straight roles would in parallel limit the opportunities of gay actors.

Still, a separation must be made between these instances of “washing” away the depictions of oppressed groups. Mostly, the aim of an actor is to believably play the role they’ve been assigned, and while straight actors such as Darren Criss can play gay roles relatively successfully, Scarlett Johansson cannot believably play a Japanese woman. 

The issue with Ghost in the Shell was the decision to cast a white actress Asian character as an Asian character, and to remove representation of a marginalise group (Asian characters already represent fewer than 1% of roles in Hollywood films).

The solution to the imbalance is to lobby Hollywood for better representation and more diverse characters so that actors from more diverse backgrounds can have greater access to acting opportunities. But limiting actors to their sexual demographic is not the way forward: it would hurt LGBTQ+ actors far more than it would straight ones.

1 COMMENT

  1. It all sounds sensational, but Scarlett would play a butch, not a transgender, darralings.
    For instance, I love it when my wife is butchy. But I wouldn’t be the right for a woman who is transitioning into a man. Must be a great guy, nut not my cup of tea. Imo.

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