'Milk' scribe joins GLAAD against Newsweek

6:59 PM PST 05/12/2010 by Jarrett Barrios , Dustin Lance Black

Commentary: Black, org urge apology over gay-actors piece

Jarrett Barrios is president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and Dustin Lance Black is a screenwriter and director who received an original screenplay Oscar in 2009 for writing "Milk." Their commentary below was written exclusively for THR.

Suffering through the tortured logic of Ramin Setoodeh's article "Straight Jacket," which ran in Newsweek on April 26, it wasn't until near the very end of the article that we finally see a reasonable point: "For gay actors, why should sexual orientation limit a gay actor's choice of roles?"

We couldn't agree more. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has been advocating this equal treatment since our inception. Moreover, as we've have been watching Hollywood and Broadway in recent years, we have been encouraged by the progress that openly gay and lesbian actors have made -- progress that everyone but Setoodeh seems to appreciate.

Setoodeh writes that he longs for the industry and America to accept gay actors who want to be leading men. But in a confusing turn, he argues that those gay actors who are bravely paving this road are somehow not up to the task. Sadly, he seems to raise more questions about his own internalized biases than what the "public" actually perceives. In fact, the public is thrilled with Jonathan Groff's turn as a leading man on "Glee," laughing at Cheyenne Jackson on "30 Rock" and embracing Wanda Sykes' man troubles on "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

The same is true in theater. While Setoodeh zeroes in on Sean Hayes on Broadway, he refuses to mention how Americans have embraced the openly gay current and past leading men in "Mary Poppins," "The Addams Family" and the classic "South Pacific."

And it isn't just the public that is applauding these performances. The American Theatre Wing last week nominated Hayes for a Tony Award for the same performance that Setoodeh called out as "weird" and "insincere." T.R. Knight played the lovable -- and heterosexual -- George on "Grey's Anatomy" and earned an Emmy nomination. Neil Patrick Harris is still playing a womanizer on "How I Met Your Mother" and racking up Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.

With all of these half-full glasses, why does Setoodeh only see them as half-empty? The whole posse of off-kilter anecdotes in "Straight Jacket" seem only to confirm one thing: America is starting to embrace open gay and lesbian actors in heterosexual roles on stage and screen and Setoodeh himself is not yet ready to. In one example, Setoodeh goes out of his way to call Sean Hayes "queeny" and assert it as a disqualifier for his straight role in "Promises, Promises." It's when the author peddles tired stereotypes like a "queeny" that the piece leans away from reality and tilts toward openly gay Setoodeh's own issues with sexuality and femininity.

The truth is, the glass ceiling Setoodeh posits has been constructed by his own arguments -- ones that ignore fact after fact about the direction Hollywood is headed in 2010. Maybe Setoodeh can't see "Glee" and "Promises, Promises" except through a lens of dark stereotypes he's inherited. Maybe he's got some axe to grind. But whatever the reason, with the stakes so high for gay Americans at this moment, it is no excuse for his editors inflicting such hurtful -- and baseless -- musings on the readers of Newsweek. We'd all have been better off leaving Setoodeh's tortured thoughts on his therapist's couch and leaving baseless stories like this one on the editor's desk.

For another take on the Newsweek controversy, here's a commentary from THR.com editor Andrew Wallenstein.
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