In Ellen Pageer’s speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive conference, she describes the film industry as “an industry that places crushing standards on all of us”. She goes on to share openly about her sexuality and her hopes for everyone to be more accepting of each other.
Page’s new movie, “Freeheld,” is based on true events about a lesbian couple in New Jersey who struggle to receive pension benefits when one of them becomes terminally ill. She co-stars with Julianne Moore and, although I have yet to see the film, it challenges many of the stigmas that Hollywood holds.
We tend to view Hollywood as such a progressive entity that challenges social issues daily but this is not exactly the case. According to Variety magazine, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) reported that of the 114 feature films released by major studios in the past year, only 20 of them included LGBT characters. In half of the 20, these LGBT characters only had about 30 seconds to 5 minutes of on-screen time.
What is even more interesting to note is that about two-thirds of those LGBT characters were white males. When Hollywood portrays LGBT characters, or any lifestyle/situation that evokes social anxiety, they tend to do everything in their power to paint that character as “normal”. Being white, male, and economically sound are just a few examples of what society views as “normal” and can help to make these characters become more acceptable, for lack of a better term.
But that isn’t real life, is it? Everyone identifies themselves so differently in terms of gender, sexuality, race, social status, economic status, etc that it is ridiculous to think we can make LGBT characters “normal” if we could only fit them into this rigid mold.
Recently, Matt Damon received a lot of backlash for something he said in a recent interview promoting his new movie, “The Martian.” He said, “You're a better actor the less people know about you period. Sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you're straight or gay, people shouldn't know anything about your sexuality because that's one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.”
Many media sources shamed him, claiming that he meant to imply all gay actors should stay in the closet. Damon, being such an influence in the film industry, is simply addressing a stigma that he sees in his line of work. The truth of the matter is that actors and filmmakers face the threat of type-casting and discrimination due to any part of their personal lives—sexuality included.
Variety also points out that, although the entertainment industry has seen many influential personas identify publicly as LGBT lately, there has yet to be an A-list actor who has “come out” in the prime of their career.
Page was quoted saying, “There’s this narrative that people are attached to: You cannot come out because it’s going to hurt your career”.
Those like Page who can identify this disparity and are actively working to do away with it are becoming the new face of Hollywood. Sometimes it is difficult to look past the film industry’s liberal forefront and realize that, much like most other facets of society, it still has a long way to go.