Straight actors should not play gay characters, says one of Britain’s leading writer/producers.
Russell T Davies (pictured), a prolific and successful screenwriter whose credits include Queer As Folk and the revival of the children’s sci-fi series Doctor Who, has told the Radio Times:
‘You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places.’
Clearly this is an excellent way of generating headlines, especially when you have a new gay TV series to promote — Davies’s latest is called It’s A Sin. But is his statement actually true?
He’s certainly right about ‘blacking up.’ Gone are the days when a white thespian stalwart would dye his skin to play outside his race, as Alec Guinness did in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) when he played the Arab leader Prince Faisal.
It’s probably also the case in the increasingly woke movie-making climate that no longer would an able-bodied actor be cast as a disabled character — so we’re unlikely ever to see a repeat of Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar-winning performance as Christy Brown (a writer with severe cerebral palsy) in My Left Foot (1989).
What’s much less obvious is that ‘authenticity is leading us to joyous places’.
Actually, what politically correct casting has done is ruin yet another perfectly successful, functioning profession, known as ‘acting’.
For thousands of years — since at least the drama of the Ancient Greeks — it has been perfectly well understood that the job of actors is to pretend to be people they are not. (The Ancient Greek word for actor is ‘Hypokrites’ – from which, obviously, we derive the word ‘hypocrite’).
Only in the last decade or so has the thespian world been infected with weird, unfair and unhelpful identity politics notion that actors should only be able to play people like themselves.
It’s unhelpful because almost inevitably it means that no longer will casting decisions be made on talent but on criteria like ethnicity, sexuality or physical ability. So the work won’t go to the best person for the job — the one who will give the most convincing, moving, striking performance — but to the one who ticks the right boxes.
It’s weird because it renders the acting profession effectively obsolete: why develop skills pretending to be someone else if all you’re now required to do is be yourself?
One of the reason Russell T Davies’s first major TV series Queer As Folk was so successful was because of the brilliant central performance by Irish actor Aidan Gillen as a ruthless, predatory homosexual. But Gillen — who later went on to play Littlefinger in Game of Thrones — is married (to a woman) and has two children.
Does this mean that Queer As Folk should now be airbrushed from history because of its insensitive, politically correct casting which denied a real gay actor a covetable role? Or does it make Russell T Davies’s new ‘only gays can play gay’ rule outrageously hypocritical?
It’s unfair because, clearly, it will only be applied selectively.
For example, if only gay actors can play gay roles, then surely it ought to follow that only straight actors can play straight roles?
Can you imagine the havoc this would wreak on the acting industry if this were properly applied (which of course it won’t be)? Half the talent would never find work again…