Why Ellen Page Coming Out Matters In Hollywood

Feb 16 2014, 10:45am CST | by

In a moving speech on Friday, actress Ellen Page revealed to the world that she is gay. The 26-year-old actress told a group gathered for a Human Rights Campaign even that she is tired of hiding and “tired of lying by omission.”

“I suffered for years because I was scared to be out,” Page told the crowd. “I’m standing on the other side of that pain.”

Page joins a growing group of famous people who 20 years ago never would have admitted to their sexuality. Michael Sam, an up and coming football player, recently announced that he is gay. Anderson Cooper is out of the closet and so is Robin Roberts.

Other actors who have recently come out include Jim Parsons, Victor Garber and Zachery Quinto.

In another era, for a famous person admitting to being gay would have been the end of his/her career. Movie stars under the thumbs of big studio contracts regularly married and had children just to continue a façade of heterosexuality.

Today the world is a better place. Gay stars like Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris regularly rank on our annual Celebrity 100 list. (Last year DeGeneres earned an estimate $56 million. Harris brought in $15 million.) Coming out as gay hasn’t slowed Elton John’s career or stopped Adam Lambert from selling out concerts.

But it would be ignorant to pretend that sexual preference doesn’t matter at all in Hollywood. Neil Patrick Harris rakes it in playing the very straight Barney on How I Met Your Mother and Qunito gave Spock a (hetero) love life in the new Star Trek movies. But those guys are the exception, not the rule.

For the most part, the celebrities who have come out are either smaller-earning actors or personalities. People like DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper have an easier time being out because no one is expecting them to be anything but themselves. We are never asked to buy an image of Cooper making out with a woman. We’d be shocked if we saw DeGeneres walking the red carpet with a boy friend.

Actors are different. They have to disappear into their roles on the big screen. And like it or not, most studio executives are going to take a long pause before hiring a gay actor, especially when that actor is young and maybe hasn’t already created a hetero image that sticks in people’s brains. Most people wouldn’t blink at seeing Victor Garber with a wife on screen. They might not feel the same about Jim Parsons.

Page is a busy actress but not necessarily on the A-list. She’s best known for playing the lead in the hit indie movie Juno and a supporting role in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. She’ll be seen this summer in the new X-Men movie where she plays Kitty Pryde. Page has a following but she’s not one of the higher-paid actresses in Hollywood.

So will her announcement affect what kind of roles she gets? We’ll have to wait and see. Page has never been cast as the sex symbol. There’s no reason studios won’t continue to cast her in roles where the character is young and smart with a sharp wit. Hopefully they will continue to cast her in the same roles they would have considered Page for before her announcement.

Page coming out is important because it’s one more actor who is telling the truth. The more prominent people in film, sports and music who are open about their sexuality, the less stigma there will be for young people who are struggling with their sexual identity. And the harder it will get for Hollywood to discriminate against gay actors. If Page or Parsons is the best actor for a role, that actor needs to get cast.

Kansas is considering passing a bill that would essentially allow discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexuality. Those kinds of moves become much tougher when beloved celebrities come out as gay. DeGeneres likely made many homophobic people think twice about their stance toward the LGBT community. Imagine what would happen if someone as big as Beyonce or Robert Downey Jr. came out as gay. Would people love Iron Man any less if it turned out Downey Jr. liked men?

As more young stars come out, society will change with them. Hollywood needs more Ellen Pages.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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