October, as you might already know, is the month when at least two major LGBTQ+ film/media festivals – QueerX in Los Angeles and NewFest in New York – normally take place, and although COVID has presented challenges for these kinds of events, both are rising to the challenge, following the example set earlier this year by others and making most of their scheduled content available virtually.
It’s also LGBT History Month, and in light of this year’s unique position in the middle of a world-changing crisis, it seems appropriate to observe that within this practical adaptation lies the seed of a future in which queer content is more accessible than ever. For the first time, fans of LGBTQ film and television can participate in these kinds of festivals regardless of where they are, and in a post-COVID world it’s highly likely that’s an innovation that will stick, which could be good news for queer visibility, offering potentially millions of people access to content that was once denied them by geography and economics. Looking back at how far we’ve already come in that struggle, such a thing can only be viewed as remarkable.
And yet, in looking back, we might also want to take note of what we’ve learned about the real enemy of visibility – the homophobia that has long existed in the entertainment industry itself, and the insidious way it works behind the scenes, thriving in the shadows even as the content we see becomes ever more inclusive.
Conveniently enough, we can find a stark reminder in the story of out actor Rupert Everett – a poster boy for the way gay performers are sidelined by the mainstream industry – who is dropping a new memoir (his third) this month.
Like many British thespians, Everett had begun his career onstage, rising to prominence as a gay public school student in the Julian Mitchell play “Another Country.” When the play was adapted for the big screen, Everett reprised his role and became a rising star – but while playing a gay character might have been “brave” in Hollywood, actually being gay was quite another thing, and when the actor officially came out in 1989, the offers stopped coming.
It was a reversal of fortune that prompted him, 20 years later, to comment in an interview with The Guardian, “It’s not that advisable to be honest. It’s not very easy. And, honestly, I would not advise any actor necessarily, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out.”
Thanks in part to those remarks, the handsome actor can hardly be called a beloved figure within the LGBTQ+ community – but his experience has relevance here, nonetheless.
Despite his continuing presence on stage and screen in the UK, and a brief career resurgence that came in the ‘90s from a pair of GBF roles opposite Madonna (“The Next Best Thing”) and Julia Roberts (“My Best Friend’s Wedding’), the kind of superstardom for which he once seemed destined has been beyond his grasp ever since coming out; with that in mind, though it might not have been in step with the message we wanted to hear, his cynical advice for young gay actors to stay in the closet cannot be said to have been unwise.
At least, that was the case when he made those comments, a little over a decade ago – but is it still true now? Another recent celebrity disclosure seems to offer a disappointingly affirmative answer to that question.
In an interview last week, actor Charlie Carver disclosed a shocking story about a gay colleague who took extreme measures to warn him about revealing his sexuality publicly. Carver, who first garnered attention for his television roles in “Desperate Housewives” and “Teen Wolf,” has been open about his sexuality since 2016, but he told Variety that an unnamed industry associate – someone with whom he has worked before, but not onscreen – had made comments to him at the 2015 Emmy Awards about his “effeminate” acting, and that he “needed to ‘get it under control’ around people in the business.”
Carver says he later approached this gay former co-worker at the valet station outside, asking him for clarification about what he meant; in response, he claims, the unnamed man slapped him across the face.
“It wasn’t playful but intentional, pointed and meant to be instructive. A slap,” says the now-32-year-old actor. “I told him that if he ever touched me again, I would name him.”
The experience led to an epiphany for Carver (“That was the moment when I said to myself, ‘I can’t do this. I cannot police myself in that way,” he told Variety), and he came out publicly via his Instagram account a few weeks later. At the moment, it would seem he has no reason to regret that choice; he’s currently in the spotlight for roles in two high-profile Netflix offerings, “Ratched” and “The Boys in the Band,” and he’s slated to appear opposite Robert Pattinson in next year’s “The Batman.”
How he fares after that is something to keep an eye on. Up until now, his exposure has largely taken place in front of a queer or queer-friendly audience, but the newest film iteration of an iconic superhero will unquestionably draw a much wider crowd; if they don’t respond well, it’s not far-fetched to imagine that Hollywood might blame Carver’s out status, at least partly, for that failure.
Even if the movie is a hit, it’s no guarantee he can overcome what has historically been a persistent and deeply ingrained stigma to achieve future success in the mainstream industry. Everett can attest to that.
In a preview excerpt from his upcoming book, the British actor dishes sardonically about the frustrations of his years-long effort to get a screenplay he wrote (“The Happy Prince,” about queer literary icon Oscar Wilde) made in Hollywood. Among the insights he reveals is the fact that things went sour when he declined producer Scott Rudin’s suggestion that the straight Philip Seymour Hoffman should play Wilde instead of Everett himself.
“And here is where I made my greatest mistake,” Everett writes. “I should have said yes.”
Rudin initially relented, but eventually pulled out of the project after a long list of directors also declined. Everett, once a Hollywood golden boy, was now officially persona non grata.
“The Happy Prince” was eventually produced, but not without Herculean effort from Everett and a lot of help from his friends. Well-received but sparsely released, it’s now available, like so many other LGBTQ stories, on streaming platforms across the globe. A happy ending, perhaps, but not quite the comeback success it was intended to be.
None of this takes away from the triumph of living in a world where an entire multi-million dollar industry exists around the production and distribution of queer content.
Yet as we celebrate that victory, we cannot ignore the warning embedded in the stories of these two out actors, a generation apart. The entertainment industry may be willing to present a friendly mask to LGBTQ+ audiences, as long as it brings a profit – but we must always be aware that, lurking behind it, is the familiar face of homophobia.
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Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights