Friday, 22 June 2018

The Challenges of Being a Gay Actor in 2018

When speaking to many of my straight colleagues there seems to be a misconception that things are great in the LGBTQ Community. After all we won marriage equality and there are numerous anti-discrimination laws that protect the rights of LGBTQ folk in Canada. However things are not all smiles and rainbows. In Hollywood there is still a double standard when it comes to casting.

For example, the new film Call Me By Your Name (2017) chronicles the romantic relationship between Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old living in Italy, and his father's American assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). The film is a beautiful queer love story: It has received two Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Chalamet has been nominated for best actor for his brilliant portrayal of a young man’s sexual awakening. A film like this would never have been nominated 30 years ago and it shows how far society has grown. However, both Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer identify as straight. While I applaud both Chalamet and Hammer for their Performances and wish them the best in their careers this perfectly illustrates Hollywood’s double standard. When straight actors play gay roles they are usually applauded for their talent, skill and bravery. They win awards and opportunities start rolling in. Generally speaking the opposite is true for LGBTQ+ actors.

Often times LGBTQ+ actors wish to remain closeted or are strongly advised by their agents and managers to remain in the closet. A recent example of this is with Colton Hayes. He has stared in many projects including Teen Wolf, American Horror Story, and Arrow. In 2016 he was hospitalized for panic attacks. Shortly after receiving treatment for his anxiety disorder he came out as gay. He said in an interview that from the first day he arrived in Hollywood he was told “he could not be gay because he would never work”. So he was forced to bury his true self in order to pursue his acting career. Luckily for him at the time he came out he had a massive supportive fan base and many industry insiders rooting for him to succeed. Lower profile actors and those new to the industry do not always have that luxury.

Another example is Canadian actress Ellen Page her Hollywood career was gaining steam up until 2014 when she came out as a lesbian during the production of her film “Free Held”. Shortly after the number of projects offered to hear Dropped and of those projects offered to her all where Lesbian Characters in lower profile films. She was quoted as saying “There’s still that double standard…  now I’m gay, I can’t play a straight person?” 

I too faced similar discrimination when I first started my acting career in Toronto. I signed with my first agent in 2005 and at the time I was constantly being submitted for a variety of productions: commercials, movies of the week, and various Family Channel series. Then one day I mentioned absentmindedly to my agent that I was going to a Pride event with some friends. My agent said, “oh you're gay…how do you feel about auditioning for Queer as Folk”? That show was controversial at the time but I told my agent that I was okay with it, a few days later I auditioned for the series. Then something odd happened, I went from several auditions a month to practically nothing. The few auditions I did get called in for consisted of several very poorly written Gaysploytation films. When I confronted my agent about this she said, “ oh I thought you would be more comfortable with gay roles”. I was taken aback by her narrow-mindedness. I soon left that agency and switched to a “don’t ask don’t tell policy” which led to an increase in the number of auditions for more mainstream projects.

This was 13 years ago and I have overcome my reservations of being out professionally but there are many others who have not. Things are getting better but there is still a long way to go. Homophobia still exists in our industry, it may not always be as overt or blatant as it used to be but it's still there and we must find a way to both address and overcome it together.

Simon MacIntyre

Co-Chair LGBTQ Sub-Committee

Friday, 7 April 2017

Hope for Hollywood – Beauty in Diversity on Screen By: Marika Siewert

I recently went to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and I was pleasantly surprised in every aspect to see diversity completely at the forefront of this film. From the beautiful beginning song throughout the entire journey there are powerful characters, incredible actors behind the voices, and a very purposeful mission on Disney’s part to embrace diversity that we see in our every day lives. One particular thing that was pointed out on the press tour was that this was the very first Disney movie to contain a “mixed race” kiss – speaking of Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald’s characters. Rightly so, Audra didn’t even realize it was a big deal – which is as it should be. She saw it as simply a right demonstration of love between two characters. But, for me as a woman, a woman of colour, and someone who is married to a handsome Caucasian fellow, with beautiful mixed kids, it was a delight to see what I saw on screen being portrayed as the norm. For every art, music and film lover, Beauty and the Beast is a must see, as it will ignite your passion for good cinema and bring joy through the amazing piece of art and entertainment that it is.

Now I didn’t just mean for this to be a big push for Beauty and the Beast, but seeing this film happened to coincide with writing this piece, and I felt that it was timely in my realization that there is hope for diversity in Hollywood and Hollywood North.

I will be first to admit that when I started the journey of being a professional actor, I was falling into the trap of feeling sorry for myself. I felt that I wasn’t getting the opportunities that maybe my Caucasian counterparts were getting. I was constantly being told “they didn’t bite” or “we’ll get the next one” from my agents. Then, when I saw that ultimately a Caucasian woman surely got the part, it would confirm my feelings that I may be playing a no named nurse or doctor for the next ten years of my acting career. I was doomed before I even really started. Then I made it a mission to visit a few different prominent casting directors and have candid conversations with them about being a diverse actor in Hollywood. I found out that yes - it’s difficult being a diverse actor, but if this is what I want to do, I need to just keep doing it and I need to constantly GET GOOD at it!

The reality is – there are advocates out there working on the frontlines to get diversity to the forefront of film and television. I have met some of these amazing people and they are doing great work. Where they didn’t see a place for themselves, they created one. They became directors, writers, casting directors, and producers. They made space because there is space. They may have had to work a little harder and fight way more battles than those who aren’t diverse, but they did it. They believed and they pushed through. And they still do that. They are just waiting for us to be SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE US! Yes – there will always be room for improvement but we need to be part of the solution, even if it means creating our own solutions to start. A friend of mine right now is working in Hollywood to advocate for “differently abled” actors to be working on network television – which means – we need more workshops and training for differently abled actors. We need more writers writing parts specifically for this kind of talent. We need to encourage those with hopes and dreams of being an actor, but never thought possible to believe again that it is possible, to get training, and start being visible in the audition rooms. In the same way, we as diverse actors need to have hope again in ourselves, in our talent, and in those that are advocating especially for us. I know it may sound trite – but reality is – there are really good diverse actors working out there. There can always be more, but let’s work hard to join the ranks. When I was asked by a casting director in a candid conversation “what are you anyway? “(he was referring to my race). I told him I was mixed (I’m actually a Trinidadian and Mauritian, who grew up in England and now I live in Vancouver), and his response was “oh you don’t fit anywhere…so you should be auditioning for EVERYTHING! “His response honestly changed not just my career, but my entire life. It has helped me educate my team, my agents, my friends even, and has given me a completely different outlook on my career. I then decided, I just want to be really incredible at what I do, so people will hire me because of my talent, not my differences. Since that day, only about a month later, I booked a recurring guest star role in a TV series. Yes, it was me against a bunch of other light skinned lovely talented people, but I went in the room with the idea of doing the casting director proud – not that I deserved this role, but that I would just deliver for him and for the production, and I BOOKED IT. I’m not saying it’s always going to be easy, and my journey to prove myself able of being a lead actress could be long. I’m not going to book every audition, but I want to be doing great things in this business for a long time, and I’m going to work hard for it and work alongside those that want that for me too. I also know, I need to continue to believe bigger. It is my motto that regardless of what anyone else thinks or says, that “I get to be the leading lady in my story” and so no matter how difficult it seems, I am going to continue to write a great story for myself. Everything else may be a big fight not worth fighting. I want to create a better space in the industry for myself and also for my kids who are coming up behind me (or more like in front of me because they are already such great actors ha-ha). I have decided to move forward, always aspiring to be more gracious and hopeful than bitter, angry and hurt and against all the odds, no matter what, to...Just keep swimming! (Wise words from a very inspiring diverse character herself  - Dory aka Ellen DeGeneres )

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward “Martin Luther King Jr.

Writer Bio:

Marika Siewert is a professional UBCP/ACTRA actor, Top 40  recording artist, songwriter, industry coach and consultant. She is also a wife and mother and her three children are also professional working actors.  For more info:

Monday, 21 November 2016

Blog # 1 by: Omari Newton – Representation Trumps Reality: why what we see on screen matters

Like many of us, I have been in somewhat of a daze following the election of billionaire, turned reality TV star Donald J Trump as president of the United States of America. Unlike many, I can’t say I’m entirely surprised by the result. Any minority who has been on the receiving end of systemic or overt racism, which is to say, all minorities, was cautiously optimistic about the possibility of Obama not being replaced by a man whose rhetoric has been at best insensitive to the plight of immigrants, Muslims and African Americans, not to mention women and anyone with progressive political leanings. To be clear, the cause of my dismay isn’t about a political ideology that is admittedly often at odds with my own. I have friends in Canada and the USA who are politically conservative. Though we disagree to be sure, there is common ground to be found and mutual respect, despite our core disagreements. What was so unsettling about these election results to myself and I dare say many members of minority groups has to do with our sense of fairness, justice and morality. Despite being well aware that the world can be a harsh, and unfair place, I was deluded into the clearly false belief that certain things would disqualify any candidate from being considered a viable choice as a leader. No matter who is steering the ship, or what direction they wanted to take the ship in, it was my (false) belief that the overwhelming majority of people agreed that you always need a captain who at the very least is capable of actually piloting the vessel. There are core traits that I assumed one needed to inspire confidence in others and be elected to any leadership position. Some of those key traits include experience, knowledge, honesty, morality and discipline. I assume anyone reading this is well aware of the laundry list of outlandish things Trump said and did on the campaign trail. If you aren’t here’s a quick, hilariously depressing refresher courtesy of Seth Meyers.

In short, on a surface level, it seemed like Trump was uniquely unqualified to be America’s next leader, as he hadn’t exhibited any of the core traits one should look for in one. Or did he? Fans of reality TV are no doubt familiar with Trump’s show The Apprentice. A series that was once so popular it made the then generic term “you’re fired” a trendy catch phrase now forever linked to the incoming president elect. On this wildly popular show, Trump was constantly featured in the most complimentary light. He was depicted as authoritative, all powerful and decisive. His carefully crafted appearances shaped by professional editors always ensured he looked like the picture of power, intelligence and leadership. The show climaxed every night with some of America’s most beloved celebrities grovelling for his mercy and approval in his luxurious Manhattan boardroom, where he sat in a big chair, in an expensive suit and often red tie looking downright, well… presidential. While most of us are intellectually aware that a “reality” show is about as accurate a term as “friendly fire” is to describe being fatally shot by an ally while engaged in combat, on an emotional, subconscious level, one has to wonder how much of an impact these images of Trump the great leader being fed to millions of Americans had on shaping their opinions of him? The reasons people vote are of course complex and nuanced. Millions of impoverished Americans clearly wanted change and voted as a rejection against the Washington elites who they felt had forgotten about them. But is this so obviously flawed man the right person to lead the charge? Did it even matter to his supporters? Just watch any commercial for fast food and observe its’ continued popularity if you need an example of the public’s ability to be swayed by images on TV to act in a way that is blatantly counter to their best interests.

If nothing else, this latest election result has reminded me of the impact and importance of the images on our screens. Minds are shaped on a subconscious level by the pictures they consume. If certain groups or people are constantly depicted in a positive light, our impressions of them will be seen through a more forgiving lens no matter what outrageous thing they say or do. Similarly, if an individual or group is constantly seen on screen in a negative light, you can bet that public perceptions will be swayed in that direction. Worse still, if certain groups are not depicted at all, you can bet they will struggle to be seen/heard at all in everyday settings. Images on our screens and what they say about those featured matter. Which is why a rich Diversity of images and perspectives on our screens matter. To quote late great Canadian professor Marshall Mcluhan.

“The Medium is The Message”