A Celebration of LGBTQ Talent
It wasn’t all that long ago in the history of Hollywood that the LGBTQ community represented in front of the camera had to adhere to the strict Hays Code, which remained in place for three decades (1934 to 1968). It was a self-imposed industry guideline set up to prevent any explicit depictions of homosexuality in film. Behind the camera, keeping one’s identity close to the chest was mandatory if you wanted to remain gainfully employed.
Thankfully, times have changed. Below are some names who have struggled in their own ways on their road to success. While society has relaxed on these issues, which has been a long time coming, there’s still room for improvement.
Screenwriter and director Lisa Cholodenko, whose 1988 career breakout hit High Art put her on the map in Hollywood, has gone on to write and direct some of the most acclaimed movies and television shows in the last twenty years, including Laurel Canyon (2002), Olive Kitteridge (2014), The Kids Are Alright (from 2010, which earned two Golden Globes and four Oscar nominations), Unbelievable (2019, recipient of four Golden Globe nods), and The Girl from Plainville (2022).
During a press conference with the HFPA about The Kids Are Alright, a film about a family of four with two gay parents, Cholodenko said “I didn’t have an overt political agenda. My agenda was to represent this family as normal as possible and to show the real human element of this family, which happens to be a gay family.”
She told the NY Times, “I feel like I’ve been observed as an individual more than a gay person, or as a filmmaker with a certain point of view rather than a lesbian filmmaker with a gay point of view.”
Director, producer, and screenwriter Lee Daniels earned his first producer’s credit on Monster’s Ball (2001) and made his directorial debut with Shadowboxer five years later. Some of his other directorial efforts include Precious: Base on the novel Push by Sapphire (2009), which garnered numerous awards, including three Golden Globe trophies and an Academy Award Best Director nomination. He also directed The Paperboy (2012), The Butler (2013), and The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021). Other films include The Woodsman (2004), Tennessee (2008), Pimp (2018), and Concrete Cowboy (2020). He co-created and co-executive produced the TV series Empire (2015–2020) and Star (2016–2019).
Daniels spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how the idea for Precious came about. He was 8 years old, and he tried on his mother’s high heels. He said to THR, “I walked down the stairs with high heels on, and he [father] put me in the trash can. That’s why I so related to Precious.”
Actress and LGBTQ advocate, Laverne Cox’s career-defining role as Sophia Burset in the award-winning Orange Is the New Black (2013 – 2019), set her on a path to success. The work earned her a Primetime Emmy Award, the first transgender woman to win since composer Angela Morley in 1990. In 2015 she served as executive producer for Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word. Two years later she became the first transgender person to play a transgender series regular in the TV series Doubt. She also appeared in Dear White People (2019) and played herself in an episode of Golden Globe nominee Curb Your Enthusiasm. Most recently, she starred in Inventing Anna. This is what she said during an HFPA press conference, “My career changed when I really started embracing my transness and owning it. I have definitely experienced feeling invisible as a Black trans woman. I have never been interested in being invisible, so, I think I’ve made aesthetic choices that have been about me not only just doing these things that always draw attention to myself. I can’t help that, for whatever reason, better or worse. My hope is that my aesthetic allows people to see the humanity that is inside me, and that what is on the outside doesn’t keep people from seeing the humanity, the intelligence and the talent that lies inside.”
After a successful career on stage, Billy Porter won a Tony award for his role as Lola in the Broadway musical Kinky Boots. That was almost 10 years ago, in 2013. Since those days, multi-talented actor, singer, and writer Billy Porter has starred in Pose since the beginning of the hit series in 2018. He was nominated for a Golden Globe, among other awards, for his role as Pray Tell. Other work includes a five-episode run on American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2018), as well as performances in The Twilight Zone (2020), and Gossip Girl (2021). He recently won another Tony award, this time as a producer for A Strange Loop, named Best Musical of the year.
Porter said this during an HFPA press conference to promote Pose: “I’m a Black gay man who spent my whole life-fighting. I grew up in Pennsylvania, in the Pentecostal church. My family was afraid of me because I was a little sissy boy. I took it for a while and then I found my track, which was theater. I lost my first friend to AIDS at 19, sat in church and listened to people on the pulpit say that AIDS was punishment for that lifestyle. That’s when my life changed. I thought, ‘Hmm, that’s not what Jesus says to do.’ I left the church when I was 16 and I’ve not been back. They told me I wouldn’t be blessed. They said my life is going to be terrible. They thought I was going to come back with my tail between my legs. Then, Kinky Boots came to town on tour. I came with it and sold out a 3,000-seat theater in two days. These people are in their same storefront church that I left them 30 years ago. So, ‘Who is being blessed?’ is my question.”
Actor Matt Bomer made his debut in Flightplan, in 2005. He followed up with a recurring role in the TV series Chuck. Then, he landed the lead role in White Collar (2009 to 2014). On the big screen, he has appeared in Magic Mike and its sequel (2012 – 2015). Bomer earned a Golden Globe for his portrayal of a closeted New York Times writer in The Normal Heart. He made his directorial debut in the Golden Globe nominated TV series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (2016). In 2020 he appeared in the TV series The Sinner. Other appearances include seasons four and five of American Horror Story, in addition to Walking Out, Anything (2017), and Papi Chulo (2018). He returned to the stage and played Donald in The Boys in the Band. He reprised the same role for the film that was released in 2020).
During an HFPA podcast session recorded in 2020, Bomer stated “What I’ve come to learn is that a lot of us feel that, because we earned the right to marry, everything’s just fine and dandy and equal now. It is not. There are still places where people cannot serve me a cake if I order it at their counter.” He continued: “So, yeah, coming out is a sacrifice. But if it’s a choice between truth and honesty – and, certainly in terms of my family, acknowledgment and love and openness and ambition rather than closeted deals, lurking behind curtains, hiding behind a persona or an untruth, or dodging the truth and always living in fear – that was a pretty clear-cut choice. But there’s no question that there are consequences to that decision. We’ve come a long way. We truly have. I’m a great beneficiary of that and I’m very grateful for it. But we have a long way to go.”