As gay lawyer Andrew Beckett, superstar Tom Hanks won his first Oscar in 1994. Today, however, he would no longer play a part like that in the AIDS drama “Philadelphia”. In a recent interview with the “New York Times Magazine”, the 65-year-old spoke, among other things, about the criticism of casting decisions and also referred to “Philadelphia”:
“Could a straight man do what I did in Philadelphia today? No, and rightly so. The whole point of the film was not to be afraid. One of the reasons people weren’t scared of this movie was because I played a gay man. We’re past that point now, and I don’t think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight man playing a gay man. It’s not a crime, it’s not a boohoo for someone to demand more authenticity from a film these days. Do I sound like I’m preaching? That was not my intention.”
Tom Hanks’ position is sometimes sharply criticized on Twitter and in comment columns. Acting, so the core of the objection, should have no limits. Following Tom Hanks’ logic, wouldn’t it also be wrong for a person with no war experience to impersonate a soldier, like Hanks did in Saving Private Ryan? And the reverse case of the “Philadelphia” example – a queer person plays a heterosexual person – should remain possible, they say.
Whatever one thinks of it: Tom Hanks’ position also has to do with another topic that has not been satisfactorily clarified in Hollywood to this day: large film projects with queer themes stand or fall with their stars.
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal had already made their names as newcomers before they took on the roles of two gay cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. Even the later Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne was already known, at least among Hollywood producers, when he signed for “The Danish Girl”. There he plays Lili Elbe, a painter who underwent sex reassignment surgery in the early 1930s. Redmayne’s commitment was criticized by the trans community, saying many would have preferred to see a trans woman in the role.
It was similar with the planned biopic “Rub
So in Hollywood, deciding which actor or actress to play which part isn’t just about the authenticity question raised by Tom Hanks. The dilemma is that the big names of mostly heterosexual cis stars can still decide whether a film project is financed or not – especially when it comes to queer topics and not the superhero blockbusters currently dominating the box office .