The choice by producers to cast Jack Whitehall, a straight 30-year old British comedian as Walt Disney Company’s first openly gay character, has critics asking questions.
In the film “Jungle Cruise,” Whitehall is “playing a gay man” and a character who is “hugely effete, very camp and very funny,” a film producer tells the Los Angeles Blade. Disney’s publicity staff says the film is “based on Disneyland’s theme park ride, where a small riverboat takes a group of travelers through a jungle filled with dangerous animals and reptiles, but with a supernatural element.”
Britain’s Sky News reported that fellow actor Chris Salvatore told Disney to “do better,” adding: “Such a dam [sic] shame it’s so hard to find gay actors to play gay roles in Hollywood.”
Actor and producer Emerson Collins added: “It’s too bad there weren’t any out actors who are regularly called some euphemism for ‘too camp’ by casting directors, studios, networks, executives etc. for literally any role who were available for this Disney ‘first.’”
Egyptian-Canadian actor and gay activist Omar Sharif Jr. asked Disney on Twitter: “Your first significant gay role will be played by a straight white man perpetuating stereotypes? Fail! This ship should sink.”
— Omar Sharif Jr. (@OmarSharifJr) August 13, 2018
East London-based lesbian journalist Sophie Wilkinson also questioned Hollywood’s sense of casting:
If Scarlett Johansson wasn’t allowed to play a trans man then Jack Whitehall shouldn’t be allowed to play a gay man. Especially so when you consider there are absolute hundreds of out gay men in Hollywood who are better actors than him
— Sophie WilkINson (@sophwilkinson) August 13, 2018
The announcement, made public over the weekend, has amplified the ongoing critique that Hollywood Film Executives are continuing to marginalize LGBT actors and characters in films. This past May, in an annual report issued by the LGBTQ Media Watchdog group GLAAD —(The 2018 GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index )—the numbers for 2017 revealed that LGBT representation in major motion pictures are the lowest since 2012.
“We hope that next year’s report is able to paint a more promising picture than GLAAD’s 2017 findings,” GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis writes in the report, noting that 2018 has so far seen three well-executed, LGBT-inclusive films from major studios: “Annihilation,” “Blockers,” and “Love, Simon.”
“There’s not ample reasons to deny openly gay persons from appearing in those roles,” the film producer, who requested to not be identified, told the LA Blade. There are famous gay/queer actors who play straight roles “exceptionally well,” citing the examples of inimitable Sir Ian McKellen and New York actor Ezra Miller, the 25-year old who is gaining attention for his role as “Flash” in “The Justice League.”
“Speaking to Shortlist magazine, Miller said that he was warned not to share details of his sexuality – he has had romantic relationships with both men and women, and doesn’t identify as heterosexual – because it could hamper his chances of landing a leading film role,” The Telegraph of London noted last November.
“I was told by a lot of people I’d made a mistake,” Miller told Shortlist. “Folks in the industry, folks outside the industry. People I’ve never spoken to. They said there’s a reason so many gay, queer, gender-fluid people in Hollywood conceal their sexual identity, or their gender identity in their public image. I was told I had done a ‘silly’ thing in… thwarting my own potential to be a leading man.”
He added: “I was given a lot of stern talking-tos.”
Commenting on “Jungle Cruise” last week, Whitehall posted on Instagram: “Filming is underway and I am having the time of my life with my amazing co-stars.
I’m so honoured to be part of this epic adventure – @disneysjunglecruise. Filming is underway and I am having the time of my life with my amazing co stars. It’s so cool to be part of something of this scale and also as possibly one of the biggest Disney nerds on the planet so exciting to be working on a project with this much history. Watch to the end of this video and see the most incredible set I’ve ever seen. They built it from the ground up and walking onto it for the first time a month ago was like stepping back in time. Can’t wait for you to see this film… #junglecruise
The film is due to hit theaters in October 2019, with the cast also including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and British actress Emily Blunt.
Reporting by SKY News UK, The Telegraph of London, the staff of the Los Angeles Blade, and wire service reports.