LGBT Representation In Film: Whose Role Is It Anyway?

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There’s always been much talk about minority roles in Hollywood. Whether it be race, gender, or in this case, sexuality, there’s much buzz about whether or not these roles should be cast with the real deal or with actors talented enough to transform into the real deal. For instance, should Jill Soloway have cast Jeffrey Tambor as a trans woman in Amazon Prime’s Transparent, or should she have sought a trans actor who could fulfill the role just as well? Should the talented and fearless Sean Penn have played Harvey Milk in the award-winning autobiographical film Milk, or should a gay male have been cast? After all, there are gay actors that are talented enough to fulfill the role. It’s definitely been a hot topic in Hollywood lately. But even with so much controversy behind the topic at hand, it’s still quite difficult to rob talented actors of their due praise. At the end of the day, these straight actors still deliver powerful performances, exude much confidence and bravery to step into these roles and most importantly, many of them step into these roles to represent our very underrepresented community with much respect. Take Hilary Swank, for example, who shamelessly and almost effortlessly transformed into Brandon Teena, an American trans man who was brutally murdered in Humboldt, Nebraska, in the 1999 drama Boys Don’t Cry. We still praise Swank’s performance to this day. Another example – Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent performance in The Imitation Game, which was outstanding to say the least. He may soon be racking up awards for his iconic role as Alan Turing, the British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist who had cracked Nazi Germany’s Enigma code and was later criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality.

All in all, the conversation will continue, especially with more LGBT characters emerging in film and television. Just this week, Fox debuted a new TV show, Empire, starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, highlighting a subject that is rarely ever touched on, but definitely deserves some dialogue– homophobia in the hip-hop community. Both actors say they hope the gay storyline can save young lives. This lends some hope that progress is being made.

But for now, we’ll just leave this here – a few award-winning LGBT themed films and the straight actors who transformed into lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender roles to make the film’s they starred in true contenders. Check out our Top 10 straight actors with LGBT roles in award-winning films.

Sean Penn in 'Milk'
Sean Penn in 'Milk'

Sean Penn in 'Milk'

Sean Penn, who portrayed gay activist and politician Harvey Milk in the 2008 biographical film, 'Milk', definitely earned his keep. The motion picture garnered a ton of nominations, but for his outstanding performance, Penn was awarded Best Actor by the Screen Actors Guild. The film also won Best Original Screenplay at the 62nd Writers Guild of America Awards and Best First Screenplay at the 24th Independent Spirit Awards.

James Franco in 'Milk'
James Franco in 'Milk'

James Franco in 'Milk'

Following on Sean Penn's heels, James Franco received Best Supporting Male for his role as Harvey Milk's young love interest, Scott Smith. James Franco is widely known as a straight ally. We hope to see more of these roles from him.

Daniel Radcliffe in 'Kill Your Darlings'
Daniel Radcliffe in 'Kill Your Darlings'

Daniel Radcliffe in 'Kill Your Darlings'

Sometimes it's hard to picture the all-grown-up Daniel Radcliffe in any other role than 'Harry Potter.' But Radcliffe has proven that he's a force to be reckoned in 'Kill Your Darlings', a biographical film based on early writers of the Beat Generation. Radcliffe plays gay beatnik writer Allen Ginsberg and impressed many with his performance. The film went on to receive three film festival awards.

Hilary Swank in 'Boys Don't Cry'
Hilary Swank in 'Boys Don't Cry'

Hilary Swank in 'Boys Don't Cry'

The 1999 romantic drama, 'Boys Don't Cry', cleaned house, winning 43 awards (the film was nominated for 27 others). Hilary Swank's outstanding performance as trans man, Brandon Teena earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama). And let's not leave Chloë Sevigny out, who also received an award for Best Supporting Actress. 'Boys Don't Cry' also received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film.

Forest Whitikar in 'The Crying Game'
Forest Whitikar in 'The Crying Game'

Forest Whitikar in 'The Crying Game'

A lot of people may overlook Whitaker's role in 'The Crying Game'. Long after 1992, Whitaker appeared in numerous groundbreaking films, like 'The Last King of Scotland' and 'The Butler'. But before those films, Whitaker appears in 'The Crying Game' as a British Soldier who sends his kidnapper to check on his girlfriend back home, who turns out to be a trans woman. The film went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Tom Hanks in 'Philadelphia'
Tom Hanks in 'Philadelphia'

Tom Hanks in 'Philadelphia'

If you ever want to see Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in one of their most riveting roles, 'Philadelphia' is it. Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a closeted gay lawyer who contracts HIV, and is consequently fired from his firm. In his last days battling HIV/AIDS related-illnesses, he teams up with Joe Miller (Washington), to take his case against his firm partners to court. This pivotal role in Hanks' career earned him both an Oscar and a Golden Globe. 'Philadelphia' is known to be on of the first mainstream films acknowledging HIV/AIDS and the LGBT community.

Angelina Jolie in 'Gia'
Angelina Jolie in 'Gia'

Angelina Jolie in 'Gia'

1998's 'Gia', a HBO biographical film about the life and times of model Gia Marie Carangi, received bounds of praise. Jolie took on a compelling role as Gia, documenting the model's drug abuse, her love affair with a woman and her tragic death due to AIDS complications. Jolie walked away with a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Colin Firth in 'A Single Man'
Colin Firth in 'A Single Man'

Colin Firth in 'A Single Man'

Directed by Tom Ford, 'A Single Man' racked up plenty nominations. Based on Christopher Isherwood's novel (with the same title), the film follows George Falconer, a depressed, gay British professor in Southern California, set in 1962. Colin Firth's superb performance as Falconer earned him two awards for Best Actor – The Coppa Volpi and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award.

Heath Ledger in 'Brokeback Mountain'
Heath Ledger in 'Brokeback Mountain'

Heath Ledger in 'Brokeback Mountain'

One of his most memorable movies (next to 'The Dark Knight'), 'Brokeback Mountain' turned out to be a hit. The film depicts the romantic relationship between two men (Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) in Western America. 'Brokeback Mountain' was one of the most talked about films back in 2005, and with good reason. The film won three Academy Award for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. Ledger's performance as Ennis was just icing on the cake.

Charlize Theron in 'Monster'
Charlize Theron in 'Monster'

Charlize Theron in 'Monster'

There's a good reason why Theron's role as Aileen Wuornos in 'Monster' received overwhelming praise, including much critical acclaim, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress. In one of her best performances, Charlize Theron convinces us all that she's got what it takes to portray a crazed prostitute and serial killer.

Burning Question

What are your thoughts on LGBT representation in film and television?

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film, critics, awards, controversy, community, actors

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