Queer role for the straight guy: Hollywood’s big diversity fail

The Meming of Life: Disney has hired a heterosexual actor to play its first openly gay character. It seems the idea of casting gay actors in LGBT roles is just a fairy-tale

Jack Whitehall: will camp it up as “Emily Blunt’s character’s effete brother” in Disney’s Jungle Cruise

Jack Whitehall: will camp it up as “Emily Blunt’s character’s effete brother” in Disney’s Jungle Cruise

 

Following some recent online furore about casting in Hollywood, this week saw some more good, bad and intermediate news for those tracking diversity controversies in Tinseltown.

For a hot minute it seemed like we were going to get the first black James Bond, as Idris Elba became the bookies’ favourite to take the role of Ian Fleming’s (checks notes) virulently racist MI6 agent. Elba showed a pleasingly messy bitch attitude to stoking these flames by tweeting: “The name’s Elba. Idris Elba.”

Interspersed with more reasoned objections about his age or build came the usual flood of very odd reactions based entirely on his race, not least of which seemed to see it as a slippery slope and, in the case of one prominent white nationalist whose name we’ll not even print, “an act of dispossession far greater than a flotilla of a million refugees”. Possibly keen to escape the madhouse, or chastened by his soon-to-be-employers, the issue calmed somewhat when Elba tweeted a commensurately ember-snuffing “Don’t believe the hype” the following day.

‘Queer-coded’

Then it was the turn of Disney to spark outrage, as it announced what was widely referred to as its first openly gay character. Quite apart from the fact many of its characters – most memorably a frankly gigantic proportion of its classic villains – appear to be “queer-coded”, the majority of the ire with which this announcement was met was in their casting choice. The role itself was in the forthcoming Jungle Cruise, billed as “Emily Blunt’s character’s brother” – truly a character description to make your agent sing the very words. He was described as being “hugely effete” and “very camp”, which wasn’t really met with huge roars of approval, even before it was revealed that the role had gone to doe-eyed heterosexual Jack Whitehall.

For most of his detractors, the point wasn’t so much to demand that straight people must never play gay characters – although some commenters did say precisely that – but, rather, that gay people are never allowed to. Considering the increased visibility of LGBT stories in films such as Call Me by Your Name, Love, Simon, God’s Own Country, Moonlight, Carol or Blue Is the Warmest Colour, it is perhaps odd that none starred a gay person in its lead roles. “Queerness is not merely the mirror image of straightness,” opined the Guardian’s Caspar Salmon, referencing Dominic West’s dodgy dancing in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, “but a different proposition.”

For one Twitter user, there was only one universal takeaway from the whole debacle. “Everybody’s going off on one about Jack Whitehall being cast in this gay Disney fiasco,” tweeted @MrsPhilPerry, “but can we all at least agree on one thing. Thank the blessed lord it wasn’t James f**king Corden.” 

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