As Matt Bomer’s legions of fans — 89,391 had signed a petition asking for him to star in “Fifty Shades of Grey” — are protesting the news that Irish actor Jamie Dornan will play Christian Grey, it brings up some interesting questions about gay politics in Hollywood.
Focus Features never suggested that it was auditioning Bomer, the star of USA’s “White Collar,” who quietly came out in 2012, or confirmed that the studio was pursuing him for the role. When asked about the petition, Bomer said, “I’m so grateful for the fans and touched.”
Bomer might not have been cast for “Fifty Shades of Grey” for a variety of reasons. Maybe he didn’t even like the part. But the idea that many fans wanted to see him play Christian Grey, a steamy hyper-sexual role, represents progress.
It wasn’t so long ago that being out as an actor was considered a showbiz death sentence. Even after Ellen DeGeneres broke barriers as the first openly gay sitcom star in 1997, she spent several years drifting through the industry until her talk show re-launched her as the new Oprah (or Rosie). She hasn’t played a romantic lead since then.
The struggle for non-closeted gay actors has always been not to be defined by their sexual orientation, and there are more than enough of them now — Neil Patrick Harris, Jane Lynch, Chris Colfer, Cynthia Nixon, T.R. Knight, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Zachary Quinto, Sean Hayes and Bomer.
But all those actors primarily work in television. The fact remains that in the year 2013, there is still not a consistent leading gay man or woman on the big screen. Hollywood is still trying to catch up to the BuzzFeed generation, which doesn’t discriminate when it comes to a heartthrob’s sexual orientation. Hopefully, one day soon, a gay actor will crack that glass ceiling.