Why Gay Movie Stars Are Staying Locked in the Closet

A-List Celebreties Still in the Closet
Lars Leetaru for Variety

There’s a vast and growing list of prominent gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender media and entertainment figures — just don’t count movie stars among them.

Celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Caitlyn Jenner and Neil Patrick Harris have kicked open the closet door with little to no damage to their careers. In some cases, they’ve found themselves more in demand after revealing their sexual preferences or gender identification.

Yet there’s one glass ceiling that remains stubbornly resistant to cracks.

No A-list film actor has yet to come out publicly while at the pinnacle of his or her career. Sure, Jodie Foster gave an elliptical Golden Globes speech about being a lesbian, and out actors Ian McKellen and Zachary Quinto helped anchor the “X-Men” and “Lord of the Rings” series, and the rebooted “Star Trek” films, respectively. Yet despite their prodigious talents, none of them has the power to secure a greenlight on their name alone.

In some cases, business concerns, not personal comfort, lead to silence.

“There’s this narrative that people are attached to: You cannot come out because it’s going to hurt your career,” says Ellen Page, the “Juno” star who came out in 2014. “And that’s potentially true. When I made the decision to come out, I wasn’t naive to that.”

Public opinion may be shifting, with a majority of Americans now favoring gay marriage, but the U.S. is not the only market for film. Hollywood has become increasingly dependent on foreign countries such as China and Russia, which boast sprawling populations of moviegoers, as well as draconian anti-gay laws.

“In most territories, actors still sell films. It’s their face onscreen,” says Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Their films probably wouldn’t play in China.”

There are safety issues to be aware of as well.

“There’s a lot of homophobia in the world,” says Kelly Bush, founder and CEO of ID Public Relations. “In too many parts of the globe, you can be prosecuted or jailed for being gay, you can be murdered without repercussions or put to death by the state. If you’re famous and you’re gay and you travel a lot, you have to be aware that there’s a lot of hate out there, and that makes you more vulnerable.”

While more and more Americans endorse LGBT rights, many have trouble suspending disbelief when it comes to seeing gay actors portraying certain roles. In a survey commissioned by Variety, six in 10 adults say they would be less likely to see an action film with a gay leading man or woman, while four in 10 say they’d be more likely to skip an action film with a lead gay character.

The scale of these productions may make gay action stars wary of making any kind of announcement that could depress ticket sales.

As society changes, that caution will fade, predicts “Star Trek” actor George Takei, who came out in 2005. But Takei acknowledges that right now, the economic risk is big. “You’re spending sometimes hundreds of millions,” he says. “Studios want every dollar to count.”

At least being identified as gay is no longer seen as slanderous. More than a decade ago, Tom Cruise sued men who accused him of having male lovers. Today, stars like James Franco make sport out of keeping fans guessing about their sexual orientation. Others, such as “The Hunger Games’  ” Josh Hutcherson, have said they’re straight, while refusing to rule out the possibility that could change. Neither career has suffered in the process. If anything, younger moviegoers view them as cooler because of their refusal to accept traditional labels.

“Millennials are more accepting,” suggests Howard Bragman, a publicist who has helped actors like Meredith Baxter and football player Michael Sam come out.

Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” believes a gay A-lister will emerge organically: “A young gay or lesbian actor will come up through the ranks and end up being so good, and someone America finds so winning, they end up in a position to get films greenlit.”

Yet the industry remains resistant to change. Mainstream movies don’t just suffer from a lack of gay talent; they largely steer clear of dramatizing gay life, preferring to leave that to indies such as “The Kids Are All Right” and “Love Is Strange.” Less than 18% of the more than 100 films released by the major studios last year featured gay, lesbian or bisexual characters, and no films had transgender characters, according to a GLAAD study.

That’s in contrast to television and digital programming, where shows like “Modern Family,” “Transparent,” “Sense8,” “Shameless” and “Empire” feature strong lesbian, gay and/or transgender characters. Gay or transgender figures are much rarer in films, and when they do appear in the likes of “The Imitation Game” or “Dallas Buyers’ Club,” they are played by straight actors.

All it takes, industry figures say, is one transformative figure. There was a hesitancy to back tentpole productions with African-American leads before Will Smith became a global star with “Independence Day.” The same could prove true for gay actors.

“It will change,” predicts Rob Epstein, director of “The Times of Harvey Milk” and “Lovelace.” “It has in just about every other sphere. This is the last frontier.”

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  1. Sergeant Fury says:

    The problem with gay actors and actresses coming out is not only, as George Takei said, the investment, but also the gamble that audiences will reject a movie if it has openly gay leads playing straight parts. Actors are like magicians and they have to maintain as much of the illusion as possible and sexuality is a key factor in an actor’s or actresses’ bag of tricks. You have to remember that gays make up less than 5% of the U.S. population (according to the Williams Institute) and while there may be a concentration of them in entertainment and other artistic fields, the broad mass of Americans are not going to squirm in their theater seats watching some otherwise good movie knowing that someone they are watching on the big screen in front of them is gay. Most Americans may be tolerant towards gays, or say they are, but they’ll just avoid that movie. Laws against homosexual behavior are certainly barbaric, but they reflect some very deep-seated cultural beliefs about good versus negative social mores. Sexual behavior is one of those subjects in civilizations around the world that takes up a lot of space and thought, rather like this article and the reactions it has produced.

  2. mgc94520 says:

    My opinion is that its not as much an issue with gay actresses as it is with gay male actors. If people know your gay and you play a straight romantic lead people don’t see as believable and faking it. Some gay actors can overcome this but only if they act overly butch.

  3. Meme says:

    “So many of these liberals are are pro gay marriage would be devastated if their only son, their little guy told them he wanted to marry another man.”

    That’s not true at all, and you know it. You right-wingers are attacking liberals to cover for your own bigotry. Most right-wingers would abandon their kids for being gay.

    Right-wing idiots have taken over this thread because Matt Drudge linked to it (hate to break it to you guys, but Matt is a closeted gay)

  4. Sam says:

    What rubbish! Another regurgitated article of excuses where you point to a group of people you label as an excuse for potential box-office returns when Production companies are churning out mediocre movies, poorly written and poorly acted. It doesn’t matter if you have cartoons, aliens, gays or heterosexuals, if the movie is crap in English, it’s crap in Chinese and Russian. Hollywood today with it’s archaic ways of doing things is simply greedy and lazy. Grow up and change, or your industry like many others will fade away not because of the cost of a ticket or you’ve run out of markets to exploit, but you’re no longer relevant to where the rest of the world currently is and heading.

  5. Daniel says:

    Making a point that there are more TV shows with LGBT characters than movies is pretty ridiculous. There are more TV shows than movies period.

  6. Mack46 says:

    Caitlyn Jenner has a career? You actually call that a career?

  7. Alex says:

    If I’m correct Neil Patrick Harris was dragged out of the closet by Prez Hilton.

  8. GC says:

    No can do. Fans dont want to know.

  9. Lonzilla says:

    So many of these liberals are are pro gay marriage would be devastated if their only son, their little guy told them he wanted to marry another man. They’re of the same ilk who are for racial equality but don’t want blacks living next door to them

    • CJ LeJeune says:

      The biggest mistake conservatives (not all, but most) make is assuming how they think is the given; the standard. Speak for yourself, bubba. My son came out at 19, his fiancée treats him right, and now he goes hunting with me and my son.

  10. go away troll says:

    Just like reading your comments

  11. Nobody wants to know your sex lives. Keep it that way.

    • Meme says:

      “Nobody wants to know your sex lives. Keep it that way.”

      Funny, since heterosexuals have no problem flaunting their sex lives. Look at any issue of US Weekly, it’s all about which supposedly straight stars are dating each other. Straight people don’t hide the fact that they date the opposite sex, there are no closeted straights in the movie industry

    • Sui wynn says:

      Yes, please do not share ANYTHING, ABOUT your private life.
      Rock Hudson would have never been a star * could not play some of the roles he had if folks
      had know he was odd.

  12. Xavier Romano Matthew says:

    Here’s a funny line: “with a majority of Americans now favoring gay marriage”
    You do realize this went to the Supreme courts because a majority of Americans DID NOT support it and voted overwhelmingly in many states to oppose it.
    Even in so-called liberal states like California and Hawaii it was voted down by the majority.
    Please stop revising history to fit the LGBT agenda.

    • Ray Ivey says:

      Xavier, 60% of Americans now support marriage equality. You clearly have no idea how the Supreme Court works. This didn’t go to SCOTUS because “a majority of Americans DID NOT support it,” it went to SCOTUS because there were conflicting rulings in the Federal District Courts.

      Those “overwhelming votes” you describe represent opinions that changed rapidly in recent years.

      • Meme says:

        “Even in so-called liberal states like California and Hawaii it was voted down by the majority.”

        Prop 8 was YEARS ago, dummy.

      • conservative AMERICAN says:

        Agreed. All these “POLLS” select media channels are referring to are in fact, first of all, left-leaning media outlets and those polls have already been disclosed as having been conducted in primarily more liberal thinking areas. These areas are NOT the majority of American thinking. The majority of Americans are conservatives who were AGAINST same sex marriage. Period! Liberals know this. Entertainment industry knows it

    • timgray2013 says:

      Pew Research poll in June showed 57% of Americans favor same-sex marriage. A Gallup poll in May showed 60% acceptance. An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed 59% acceptance. You may not like it, but those are the numbers.
      Tim Gray

      • Bretfox says:

        You can twist the facts all you like but I guarantee you that the vast majority of Americans support traditional man/woman marriage over same sex marriage. Probably 95% to 5%. Polls are meaningless unless you know exactly how they were conducted. What has happened is that the people are just trying to tolerate your perverted life style so we can move on and cut out all the silly drama.

  13. Xavier Romano Matthew says:

    And many of us are still searching for the appeal of Ellen DeGeneres, Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner and Neil Patrick Harris… other than the media fixation on their alternative lifestyle.

  14. Xavier Romano Matthew says:

    If LBGT people make up 10% or possibly even less of the population, why is it a problem that such characters make up less than 18% of major movie characterizations?
    Sounds like the movie industry has it about right.
    Unless it doesn’t push LGBT issues enough to fit somebody’s propaganda goal to promote the LBGT lifestyle…
    Let’s face it. Television overdoes it when it comes to promoting LBGT characters and situations… probably because television IS propaganda.
    Personally I am all for realistic portrayals but 100% opposed to the television propaganda charade that surrounds us daily on this issue.

    • Eric says:

      It’s not 18% of characters being gay; it’s 18% of MOVIES featuring a gay character. If you’re counting number of overall characters, it’s a far, far less proportional representation than real life

  15. Maria Regina says:

    Everyone is thoroughly saturated with the relentless, in-your-face lgbtyxqz agendas. I had a friend visiting from another country over the weekend and we unwittingly got caught up in the insanity that is Gay Pride parade. More appropriately, it should be called the Gay Shame parade. I was embarassed for my City and by what my friend was subjected to. It could otherwise have been a wonderful Sunday outing.
    On a separate subject, I realize the media conflates gays and lesbians for political purposes but nobody gives a damn about lesbians, in reality they’re being used by gays to hide behind. It’s all truly sickening mind control, disgusting, forced and transparent as hell, so cut it out already. Be done with it. And its slippery slithering into TV, movies, etc. We are fed up. Plus, if it’s of any interest, it will all backfire, I assure you.

    • Bob says:

      Actually, the cdc eight year study shows 1.6% are homosexual. That’s in line with European studies. TV OVER emphasizes homosexuals.

  16. jbspryjbspry says:

    I don’t want to see ANYthing Hollywood has to offer. I don’t care about the sex lives of the actors; I just think the movies are total shit.

  17. Michael H. says:

    Less than 18% of 100 movies featured gays, who are 2% of the population. How is that a poor performance? You could say they ALL feature gays. I’m sure some of the people on the helicarriers in Avengers are gay. It’s just that that’s not what’s being focused on.

  18. Bill Wilson says:

    What’s Bruce Jenner’s “career” now, other than playing dress-up and looking ridiculous?

  19. This Gay Marriage has nothing to do with the rights of Gays, it’s a Political ploy by the Democrat Party (Liberals), to make the U.S.A. a Marxist, one Party country. I don’t have one animosity against gays, as a matter of fact, I’ve seen that the real Gay’s are just like any other Citizen, I’ve promoted Gay’s in my business for their hard work, and I’ve fired Gays for their lack of working. It doesn’t matter if one is gay or Heterosexual, just do your job, whatever it is, and live your lives without imposing on others. Good grief.. Stop with the in your face attitude, as those that wave the confederate flag, just to incriminate and then hide behind religion to justify their behavior.

  20. jedijones77 says:

    Dogs aren’t awarded “Best in Show” for humping someone’s leg. Why do some humans expect to be treated as a special class because of how or who they screw?

  21. Whisky Shivers says:

    Bruce Jenner had a career? What was it pray tell other than staring in THE FREAK SHOW?

  22. jedijones77 says:

    If the author had acknowledged that Angelina Jolie said she was bisexual years ago and subsequently grew into an international superstar, it would have destroyed the premise of the article. I guess he needed his paycheck this week so he had to ignore the facts.

  23. Jeff Justice says:

    What’s wrong with staying in the closet. We won’t mind.

  24. Dan Frakes says:

    Who cares?

    Does it really matter who sleeps with who when the bedroom door is closed? Is it anyone else’s business?

    Who cares?

  25. BenT says:

    “Less than 18% of the more than 100 films released by the major studios last year featured gay, lesbian or bisexual characters”

    Well, LGBT’s make up about 4% of the population, so what’s the big deal?

  26. realitymonger says:

    Personally I don’t think it has anything to do with worrying about career advancement, it has to do with the fact that most of these people were brought up in good families with morals and ethics, values they divorced themselves from long ago. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel guilty about their chosen lifestyle, deep down they know that Federal Law doesn’t trump God’s law. Liberal Hollywood would never hurt a person’s career for being their poster child, but if a person said they don’t want to be gay, then Hollywood would have a problem and destroy the person’s career.

  27. Allie F. says:

    Gay actors get what they deserve, I am sick of the gay community and their disrespect for others….what goes on in the bedroom should stay in the the bedroom. Period.

  28. Bob Gent says:

    “… Celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Caitlyn Jenner and Neil Patrick Harris have kicked open the closet door…”
    ——————————
    Closet door? They’ve kicked open MY FRONT DOOR! Come out of the closet if you want, but leave it in your bedroom.

  29. jedijones77 says:

    18% of movies feature homosexual characters and you think that’s not enough? They are only 2% of the actual population! Heterosexual characters are radically underrepresented in films, and, as you say, even moreso in TV. It’s Hollywood’s propagandizing outsized focus on homosexual lifestyles and characters that has brainwashed Americans to the point where they think homosexuals are a far bigger percentage of the population than they actually are.

    As for a young person “coming out” and later becoming a big star, why doesn’t Angelina Jolie count? She said she was bisexual long before she became a big star and it didn’t impede her career.

  30. Jizz Cumonu says:

    Yes, there’s nothing quite as lovely to behold as a muscular, bearded male in a tutu and high heels starring in a action flick like Fast and Furious 69 for instance. It’s Obama’s Hollywood in all it’s glory.

  31. E santos says:

    i am a conservative male, hetero , and quite frankly don’t give a damn what side of the street you walk on , just tired of non stop gay in your face . Watched first season of Sense 8 , thought it was sci-fi , first 3/4 delved into the characters sexuality , finally last 3-4 episodes were closer to true sci-fi , I thought it was an interesting concept for a show and was non stop bombarded by the gay culture , I know Hollywood is trying to main stream a small minority idea , BUT GIVE IT A BREAK ALREADY !!! It is not our problem you r gay , we don’t really give a shit !!!!

  32. Billy says:

    I taught they were all gay.

  33. Zach Nation says:

    If what goes on between two ‘consenting’ adults is private and none others business, why does anyone else have to know what they do? Why the NEED to come out?

  34. bob onnit says:

    Best estimates are that 3-5% of the population are gay. Add a few percent to that for people who are close to gay people and care about LGBT issues. That leaves about 90% of the public who don’t care, can’t relate and are tired of hearing about it. Seriously.

  35. Mike says:

    “majority of Americans now favoring gay marriage”……..says the liberal media.

    • LucasM says:

      I’ve seen polls that say only 22 percent support it, so it depends on who you ask apparently and liberal media only seems to ask liberals. And since nearly 40 percent of their own kind reject gay marriage, that’s telling within itself.

  36. Victoria says:

    I Am not interested in the personal lives of stars. When they start blabbing about their lives and tell us how to vote, it distracts from their performance for me.

  37. rachelle says:

    Suspension of disbelief is just about impossible when you know too much about a an actor’s or actress’s life. If a star is a SOB in real life and the viewer knows it, that viewer can’t buy him as a sympathetic, kind, romantic leading man. So it goes with orientation as well. The old saying in Hollywood remains true, goes something like this: “A leading man (or hero) is someone a woman wants to BE with and someone a man want to be LIKE.” It’s shallow, silly, and wrong to call that phenomenon “homophobia.” A straight man doesn’t want to be gay. A straight woman doesn’t want to hook up with a gay man. Simple evolutionary biological truth.

    It can go beyond the star as well. Example, my sister and I watched “Girl Gone” a few weeks back. The scene in which Neil P. Harris was seduced, then murdered was a bad scene all the way around (too gore was gratuitous, as were previous sex scenes) but as much for its non-believability from the get-go. After the DVD was pulled from the machine, my sister said, “I just couldn’t even believe that Harris was actually attracted to her.” We talked about why. I agreed.

    He’ll get plenty of work as a side kick, in comedies, or as a guy who’s not in a hetero sex scene, but don’t use him like that and expect verisimilitude.

    • Ken Puck says:

      After Rock Hudson was involuntarily outed by HIV, I was never able to watch any of his movies again. Made by gorge rise.

    • Mitch says:

      NPH was the absolute WORST thing about that movie. A blatant homosexual playing a straight lover was hard enough to watch, but his emotionless acting pretty much ruined the film.

  38. Jack Gordon says:

    Can’t be much room in any Hollywood closet. That town and DC total about 75% of the entire country’s support for this brand of perversion.

  39. The majority of Americans do not support gay marriage. That’s why the Supreme Court had to ram it down our throats.

    • Ray Ivey says:

      Helix, that’s absolutely untrue. 60% of Americans now support marriage equality. Interesting choice of phrase you used there… ramming it down our throats…kinda gay.

    • jedijones77 says:

      Not to mention all the other state and circuit courts that made it “legal” in their states. And the attorney generals who simply abdicated their duty to defend the law. This was forced on the rest of the country by a small percentage of elites.

  40. Chuck says:

    Losing victim status can have unintended consequences. Like most favored nation status.

  41. SoCalMike says:

    Memo to the writer: Nobody really cares.
    Write about things people care about or that really matter.

  42. Defiant says:

    LOL! Variety tells us how no “A-Listers” come out of he closet…and then mention all of the A-Listers who have come out of the closet…but don’t count.

  43. Geez, when can we just shut up about gayness. It’s boring the crap out of America. 18% of movies have a gay actor – whatever, gays are only 3% of the population.

    Hopefully, gays will now find that they don’t have any reason left to unite behind and can start voting with their brains and not their genitals. I doubt the plight of Hollywood A-listers is going to become a rallying cry.

  44. Shooting for a 100% gay entertainment industry by 2018.

  45. Keith Diggs says:

    PLEASE STAY IN THE FCKING CLOSET.

  46. JJ says:

    Straight men don’t usually need to sue guys who claim to be their ex-lovers so….there’s that. But that particular closet seems to have as much to do with shame and guilt as a bogus religion that fosters extreme levels of terminal uniqueness and pathological narcissism.

  47. Richard says:

    Why don’t all you people stating facts with such low percentages of gay people get a little more current sources and not ones supplied by the right wing. Sexuality is fluid in development and throughout a lifetime. More in-depth surveys show that about 20% of the population is fluid in their sexuality and not able to be pinned down by simple am I gay or not. The same surveys show that more people are homophobic than they admit to in a simple yes or no survey. In the old days many of the biggest vocal gay bashers
    turned out to be closeted gays even today I know gay men who are married that post anti-gay sentiments on Facebook. On the other hand I’m not a fan of gays or minorities who complain about under or over representation when the latest studies show it’s a 2 or 3% difference. Hollywood is in the business of making money if they can make money with 80% of the people represented in movies as gay or black or whatever they would do it. Wow we may be enlightened here in America it is chilling to see that in other countries you can still be jailed or killed just for being gay that is the height of oppression and hate.

    • jedijones77 says:

      The article’s not asking for “fluid” characters to be in movies. It seems to be asking for homosexuals and transsexuals only. Even bisexuals don’t count according to the author, since Angelina Jolie is the biggest movie star in the world and an open bisexual. Either the author thinks Angelina was lying or just doesn’t count bisexuality as an orientation.

    • Bob Gent says:

      “… in other countries you can still be jailed or killed just for being gay…”
      ———————————
      In all of recorded history, homosexuality was AT BEST “tolerated” and, at worst, as you say, severely punished. It’s only the progressives in very recent years who have decided to do away with 10 millennia of human cultural evolution.

    • J says:

      Homosexuals in the US is make up roughly 2% of the population. 20%?? Are you joking? Of course, it’s no wonder people think that it’s much higher, given their absurd overrepresentation by the agenda driven media.

  48. JackBootedThug says:

    Good…they should stay there. I’m getting tired of having to kowtow to the demands of a group that constitutes roughly 2% of the overall population.

  49. Ragnar Rocks says:

    So their box office earnings are more important to them than standing for their principles and being true to themselves? Go figure. And the rest of the world is homophobic? I thought the story is that AMERICA is the country behind the times… Get your stories “straight” ya bunch of libtards. Pun intended.

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