Kristen Stewart’s experience is emblematic of LGBTQ people’s struggles in Hollywood


Image result for casey quinlanIn an interview with Harper’s Bazaar UK, actor Kristen Stewart, who has been romantically linked to model Stella Maxwell since 2017, said, “I have fully been told, ‘If you just like do yourself a favor, and don’t go out holding your girlfriend’s hand in public, you might get a Marvel movie.’ I don’t want to work with people like that.”

Stewart has said publicly she does not identify as bisexual or lesbian, and doesn’t want to choose a label for her sexuality. In the same interview she added, “I was informed by an old school mentality, which is — you want to preserve your career and your success and your productivity, and there are people in the world who don’t like you, and they don’t like that you date girls, and they don’t like that you don’t identify as a quote unquote ‘lesbian’, but you also don’t identify as a quote unquote ‘heterosexual’. And people like to know stuff, so what the fuck are you?’”

Although it may, at times, appear as though LGBTQ representation and participation in Hollywood has achieved some semblance of parity, Stewart’s experience is far from unique. Several young, openly LGBTQ actors such as Ellen Page and Ezra Miller have talked about how their gender and sexuality have affected how people talk to them about their careers.

Ellen Page, star of Inception, Juno, and Tallulah, came out as gay in 2014. “I was distinctly told, by people in the industry, when I started to become known: ‘People cannot know you’re gay.’,” she said to Porter Edit earlier this year. “And I was pressured — forced, in many cases — to always wear dresses and heels for events and photo shoots. As if lesbians don’t wear dresses and heels. But I will never let anyone put me in anything I feel uncomfortable in ever again.”

Ezra Miller, who has starred in Justice League, Madame Bovary, and the most recent Harry Potter franchise Fantastic Beasts, came out as queer in 2012 to Out, and told GQ in 2018 that their gender is fluid.

“I’m comfortable with all the pronouns. I let he/his/him ride, and that’s fine,” Miller said.

But Miller said they were told not to be open about their sexuality and gender by a number of people who thought it would damage their acting career.

In 2017, Miller said, “I won’t specify [who told me not to come out.] 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.”

Sarah Paulson, who also chooses not to label her sexual identity, told Porter Edit in 2017 said that she was told that her relationship with Holland Taylor could be a liability for her career.

“Early on, when people found out I was with Holland, some said: ‘I think you have to be careful, I’m afraid it’s going to affect your career negatively,’” the Ocean’s 8 actor said.

One of the most notorious examples of Hollywood reacting negatively to an actor’s sexuality was Rupert Everett, star of My Best Friend’s Wedding and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who said that he stopped getting offers for roles in 2007. He has since focused on writing scripts and roles that he could play, such as poet and playwright Oscar Wilde.

He said in 2010, to BBC’s Radio 4, that Hollywood is “an extremely conservative world” that “pretends to be a liberal world.”

Although LGBTQ character diversity in films is increasing in some respects, Hollywood has a lot of progress to make on LGBTQ inclusion. According to GLAAD’s 2019 Studio Responsibility Index, LGBTQ characters had more screen time than in previous years — of the 20 LGBTQ-inclusive films released last year, 10 featured more than 10 minutes of screen-time for an LGBTQ character. When looking at each of the 45 LGBTQ characters GLAAD counted, 26 had less than three minutes of screen time and 16 had less than one minute of screen time. Transgender characters were absent from the 110 major studio releases for the second year in a row.

And there is often tremendous buzz around movies’ supposed LGBTQ representation, only to ultimately fail to deliver anything meaningful in terms of screen time or actual representation of a queer relationship.

Often there is only a hint of a relationship, or a wink and a nod, rather than representation in line with relationships between straight people. Beauty and the Beast’s live action remake was applauded for featuring a gay LeFou, but he was only very briefly shown dancing with a man in drag during a ballroom scene, largely for comedic effect. Finding Dory briefly showed two women together in a park, which some audience members interpreted as a lesbian couple and others didn’t, and they were only shown in a speechless reaction shot. When questioned about the women, the movie’s co-director Andrew Stanton said, “They can be whatever you want them to be. There’s no right or wrong answer.” Most recently, Marvel’s Avengers Endgame tossed in a quick throwaway line alluding to a gay relationship, a scene Disney pumped up as the first openly gay character in the largest box office franchise in cinematic history.

Some LGBTQ viewers were upset with the representation of Harry Potter character Albus Dumblemore in Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald, who J.K. Rowling said had a relationship of a “sexual dimension” with Gellert Grindelwald. But when it came time to show that relationship onscreen and address Dumbledore’s sexuality in general, the director, David Yates, said those things would not be explicit in the film. Similarly, in Thor: Ragnarok, the character Valkyrie — portrayed by out actress Tessa Thompson — had a scene which made her sexuality explicit but was ultimately cut from the film. Some of that representation may improve soon, however — In Thor: Love and Thunder, the next sequel in the same franchise, Valkyrie will reportedly get more explicit representation of a relationship with a woman, according to i09. Marvel Studios confirmed a romantic storyline of Valkyrie seeking a new queen.

This article was originally published at Think Progress on September 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan covers policy issues related to gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The Atlantic, and In These Times. They studied economic reporting, political reporting, and investigative journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where they graduated with an M.A. in business journalism.


Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
Scroll to Top

Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.