The Hollywood machine has for years suppressed the sexual identity of its leading players. It has done so not through some old-school mafia-style knee-capping technique, but via its casting choices, which is of course key to the success of any actor wanting to make it big in tinsel town. It’s ironic that Hollywood executives have avoided casting openly gay actors in leading roles whilst their casting couches have no doubt seen plenty of same-sex action. And why? Because they fear that American audiences will not suspend the belief required to accept onscreen romances between gay and straight actors, which amounts to a nose dive in revenue at the box office. To a certain extent, this fear is not without some founding. Six Days Seven Nights, the Harrison Ford, Anne Heche ‘romcom’ which rehashed the well worn plot of mutual dislike that submits to love (see Romancing the Stone for a great example of this formula) was a box office disaster when it was released shortly after Heche came out publicly as a lesbian. Harrison Ford’s ridiculous and uncomfortable reaction to Heche’s revelation (plus the simple fact that the film just wasn’t very good) probably had more bearing on its failure than Heche’s sexuality. Either way, the film remains a thorn in the side of a progressive Hollywood.
Understandably, Hollywood A-Listers rarely wear their sexuality on their sleeve, making the subject fodder for rumour mills and gossip rags. Speculation of this kind turns the idea of homosexuality into a dirty secret and makes it increasingly difficult for Hollywood stars to stand up and declare their sexuality with pride. That is, however, exactly what Zachary Quinto did in 2011 at a time when he had broken into the ranks of the Hollywood A-List.
Previously to landing the iconic character of Spock in J.J. Abrams 2009 remake of Star Trek, Zachary Quinto was best known for his roles as Adam Kauffman in season three of 24 and for the infamous serial killer Sylar in TV’s Heroes. His acting career has gone from strength to strength, with his performance in Star Trek confirming his place as a key Hollywood player. Then in 2011 a young gay teenager, Jamey Rodemeyer who despite having recorded an “it gets better” video took his own life. Rodemeyer’s story deeply affected Quinto and prompted him to declare his sexuality publicly, stating at the time:
In light of Jamey’s death – it became clear to me in an instant that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it – is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality. Our society needs to recognize the unstoppable momentum toward unequivocal civil equality for every gay lesbian bisexual and transgendered citizen of this country … I believe in the power of intention to change the landscape of our society – and it is my intention to live an authentic life of compassion and integrity and action. Jamey Rodemeyer’s life changed mine. And while his death only makes me wish that I had done this sooner – I am eternally grateful to him for being the catalyst for change within me. Now I can only hope to serve as the same catalyst for even one other person in this world. That – I believe – is all that we can ask of ourselves and of each other.
Public figures have a duty to be role models. I for one have no doubts from my own experiences how important it was to have gay role models when I was growing up at a time when I felt confused and isolated. Gay role models were crucial beacons of hope and affirmation. Zachary Quinto has through his actions become one such beacon, and if current trends are to be taken into account, he has done so at considerable risk to his own career. Only time will tell if his honesty will be detrimental, but it is for this reason that I applaud him as an LGBT hero.