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Media Firestorm Over Newsweek Article Stirs Up Debate Over Being Gay In Hollywood

Despite success stories like Neil Patrick Harris, being an openly gay actor in Hollywood is still considered taboo, in addition to being an ill advised career move. Back in December, Rupert Everett made headlines when he advised young gay actors to stay in the closet if they want to compete in the rat race for lead roles. Straight actor Colin Firth, who played a gay college professor in A Single Man, echoed that sentiment when he said, in an interview to promote the film, that playing gay is accepted and rewarded, but actually being gay, is not. Most recently, the debate over the current state of homosexuality in Hollywood has been stirred up by gay Newsweek theater critic Ramin Setoodeh, who has received a flood of negative publicity after criticizing two openly gay actors; Sean Hayes and Jonathan Groff, in his review of the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises which Hayes (pictured above) is currently starring in. About Hayes performance, which was originated by the late Jerry Orbach (Law & Order) in 1968, he wrote:

It’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?

He also called out Glee‘s Jonathan Groff, alleging that the actor isn’t believable in his role on the popular TV show:

As the shifty glee captain from another school who steals Rachel’s heart, there’s something about his performance that feels off. In half his scenes, he scowls—is that a substitute for being straight? When he smiles or giggles, he seems more like your average theater queen, a better romantic match for Kurt than Rachel. It doesn’t help that he tried to bed his girlfriend while singing (and writhing to) Madonna’s Like a Virgin. He is so distracting, I’m starting to wonder if Groff’s character on the show is supposed to be secretly gay.

In response to the review, Hayes’ Promises, Promises co-star Kristen Chenoweth, wrote an open letter to Newsweek that stated:

I was shocked on many levels to see Newsweek publishing Ramin Setoodeh’s horrendously homophobic “Straight Jacket,” which argues that gay actors are simply unfit to play straight. From where I stand, on stage, with Hayes, every night — I’ve observed nothing “wooden” or “weird” in his performance.

Chenoweth’s letter created a media firestorm that was fueled when gossip blogger Perez Hilton posted the letter under the headline “This Is Why We love Cheno!” Out Glee creator Ryan Murphy joined the mix, releasing a press statement expressing shock that the article came from a gay writer:

I would like to join my good friend Kristin Chenoweth on her condemnation of a recent Newsweek article written by Mr. Ramin Setoodeh, in which Setoodeh basically says that out gay actors should go back into the closet and never attempt to play straight characters. This article is as misguided as it is shocking and hurtful. It shocks me because Mr. Setoodeh is himself gay. But what is the most shocking of all is that Newsweek went ahead and published such a blatantly homophobic article in the first place…and has remained silent in the face of ongoing (and justified) criticism.

The outcry against the article is natural, although it shouldn’t have come as any surprise to anyone familiar with Setoodeh’s previous work. In 2008, he incurred the wrath of a pre-coming out Clay Aiken, during an interview by baiting the singer with questions about whether he thought Kelly Ripa‘s comments about him were homophobic. And in November he wrote an article claiming that effeminate portrayals of homosexuality on television were having a negative effect on tolerance. However unpopular Setoodeh’s opinions may be, the attitude that they should not be allowed at all is a dangerous one. It deflects attention away from the issue of Hollywood’s tolerance of homosexuality and becomes a finger pointing exercise. Setoodeh’s honesty should be encouraged, even if, in this case, his opinions aren’t politically correct. The response that’s sprung since the article’s publication is the reason most critics in major publications are careful to toe the line, in order to avoid incurring the wrath of their targets. The debate that it introduced should continue, because it’s a sad fact that acceptance still hasn’t reached a point where an actor’s sexuality is not an issue.

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