In thinking about this whole issue, an obvious question does arise: should we be this invested in the real-life sexualities of those we see on screen in any case? “The whole [question of a person’s sexuality] is a bit of a spectrum, to me. I think this is very common in a lot of people’s careers and lives: there’s not usually one definitive moment before they’re out, and after they’re out, it just doesn’t work like that,” says Robey. “Drawing those lines is a little bit arbitrary, in my view.” The counter argument usually goes that you can’t be what you can’t see – and that if queer actors and identities are clearly visible, on podiums and otherwise, then this is an inspiring thing for the next generation of LGBTQ+ people, within the industry and outside it. “I go back and forth on this, because, you know, it’s 2022 – does it really matter who’s kissing who, and who’s having sex with who,” says Strong. “But at the same time, I do feel it’s important to see yourself reflected in culture… I would like to get to the stage where we’re not having to have conversations like this, and where queer actors are recognised for their talent, and not having to constantly speak as a queer person.”
When it comes to Stewart and DeBose, it’s interesting, and many would say positive, that the fact of these two LGBTQ+ stars being nominated in one year has hitherto mostly flown under the radar, their sexuality treated as incidental. It could be argued that it is a positive step, too, when it comes to the opportunities afforded openly LGBTQ+ actors, that both are nominated for roles that are ostensibly straight: DeBose for playing Anita, the role made famous by Rita Moreno in the original film, and Stewart for playing Princess Diana. The latter might be argued to contain a queer subtext – given its high-camp sensibilities, the cultural importance of the Princess of Wales to LGBTQ+ people, and the unrequited love Sally Hawkins’s lesbian character holds for Diana – but it is, for all intents and purposes, a biopic of a straight woman. This is, ultimately, the end goal: for sexuality to be incidental, and for talent to take precedent over identity in casting. Unfortunately, at present, as industry leaders like Russell T Davies argue, the balance is terribly lopsided.
Nevertheless, it would manifestly be a great thing for either of these actors considered out-and-proud, clearly visible queer stars to win. That’s partly because any talk of such a milestone might also conversely help highlight the prejudice that does still exist within the industry, from the awards podiums to the casting rooms – even if, as Strong notes, “wider structural change is much harder to enact, and it’s not something you can solve with an award”. We’ll certainly get more Stewarts, DeBoses, and McKellens on Oscar night in time – but wins for LGBTQ+ actors will remain vanishingly rare until those systemic issues are properly interrogated and addressed.
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