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Homophobia is real. Like any other bias, it takes many forms, and while these different forms do varying degrees of harm, all of them are ultimately harmful and therefore need to be eradicated. The first of these manifestations is open and outright hatred. Thankfully, these sordid ranks have dwindled. With increasing media attention surrounding hate crimes and collective anti-intolerance sentiments amongst everyday people, both blatant verbal and violent homophobia are now often greeted with condescending retorts. Yes, it still remains strong in certain segments of the population, but on the whole, it has improved over the last few decades. The second form of homophobia is much more subtle and involves people treating homosexuals as slightly less than. I would argue this has also gotten a bit better, but people continue to act warily toward those they consider to be others.
Today, Rupert Everett gave an interview to BBC and essentially accused Hollywood, on the whole, of falling into that latter category, admitting after he came out he barely got any work for almost ten years before giving up and moving back to England. He went on to call Hollywood “an extremely conservative world” masking as “a liberal world”. Producers apparently couldn’t find the right role for him “because he was gay”. Everett later compared his talent to that of Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, bemoaning that they don’t seem to have problems finding work.
There’s no doubt in my mind that homophobia does exist in Hollywood, just like everywhere else. There certainly are some producers that fall into that second category of homophobes, and they probably do have biases against casting gay actors. I’m sure these people exist, but to accuse all or the majority of Hollywood of holding anti-gay sentiments to the point of stifling someone’s entire career is simply baseless and ludicrous.
Rupert Everett has been openly gay for more than twenty years. During that time, he’s starred in My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Next Best Thing, two of the Shrek films and a slew of other movies, television appearances and plays. At no point, did anyone, either in the industry or watching at home, assume he was straight. Everett had every chance to make it in Hollywood, and the fact of the matter is, he kind of did. He may think he’s on the same plane as Colin Firth, but he’s really not. He’s the ridiculous English guy from Dunston Checks In, and the fact that he’s still doing radio interviews with the BBC, as well as adding new entries to his IMDB page means he’s a working actor. He’s not begging for spare change; he’s just not getting the lead in major Hollywood productions. Who does that remind you of? Maybe 99% of other famous actors.
Amongst the A-List, homosexuals aren’t exactly ghosts. Neil Patrick Harris is as gay as they come. So too are Sir Ian McKellen, John Cameron Mitchell, Bryan Singer and Gus Van Sant. They’ve all made careers out of playing both gay and straight characters, directing both gay and straight material. Ellen DeGeneres even famously came out on television, and a decade later, she has an incredibly popular talk show that targets women. Not lesbians. Not bisexuals. All women, regardless of sexual orientation. Most people simply don’t care. She’s a beloved icon just being herself. On the contrary, Neil Patrick Harris is a beloved icon for playing not himself. In both Harold And Kumar and How I Met Your Mother, NPH plays womanizers, a far cry from his flamboyant Sweeney Todd past.
It all comes down to perception. Neil Patrick Harris can play both gay and straight roles because he’s believable as either. Rupert Everett is not. That’s not homophobia, it’s just a knee-jerk perception. It has nothing to do with acting ability. Rupert Everett, while not Colin Firth, is far better than most, but he’s never really come off as a strong masculine figure. Now, maybe that’s because he’s largely known for playing flamboyant roles like in My Best Friend’s Wedding, but it has nothing to do with him actually being gay. It has everything to do with him coming off as gay.
There’s no shadowy homophobic figure behind Hollywood casting decisions. While it would be foolish to dismiss a gay bias entirely, the film industry is littered with enough homosexual success stories to prove anyone can make it. Rupert Everett should know. He was given every chance to succeed, and any claims otherwise come off as hallow and baseless.