This week, it was controversially announced that British comedian Jack Whitehall will star as Disney’s first openly gay character in the new film Jungle Cruise.
Since the announcement was made, much of the debate on social media has been around whether it is okay for a straight actor to play a gay character. Gay Labour MP Wes Streeting tweeted in support of Whitehall, saying: “Shock as actor is asked to play someone different from themselves. Isn’t that kind of the point? Wouldn’t always casting gay actors in gay roles be condemned for typecasting?”
In fact, much of the response to the news was negative, with many people saying the same thing: should a heterosexual man be playing a gay character?
I was surprised by the comments online, mainly because it’s something that I’ve never really considered before. I’ve seen homosexual actors play straight characters in films and TV for a number of years, and vice-versa, and I’ve never questioned it or even thought twice about it.
I’ve always been conscious that LGBT people aren’t usually portrayed on television. And when they are, it can be a negative portrayal. When I was growing up, I didn’t really see any positive representations of my community being displayed. My first real memory of a gay character on television was Queer As Folk; which lets face it, isn’t the most positive way to promote the LGBT lifestyle.
We’ve come a very long way in the last few years. Mainstream channels are now being much more realistic of all sexualities and communities, and I’m under the belief that any form of visibility is positive. As an audience we’re seeing films also starting to wake up and realise that audiences want to watch things that relate to them in some way. Look at the recent success of the film Love, Simon for example. The film which follows a gay teenager’s journey of finding love in his American high-school. The lead actor, Nick Robinson, a heterosexual playing a homosexual.
Was that a bad thing? Actually no. The film itself was a huge success and won big at the recent Teen Choice Awards, with Robinson himself saying that he hopes the film “will help people”. So, does sexuality of an actor have an impact on the role they are playing? I don’t think so.
The truth is, any portrayal of our real lives in the mainstream - such as the huge platform that Disney is - is positive. We need to stand back for a second and appreciate something: Jack Whitehall is a British comedian, who will be playing Disney’s first openly gay man in a major role. And that’s impressive.