NewFest Forum: Acting Out
HK Lounge at NewFest
Visibility matters! This panel of out actors and filmmakers explores the ways that queer thespians can access more diverse parts, overcome stereotyping and homophobia, and attain greater visibility in the industry. Panelists included Heather Matarazzo, Bobby Rivers, and Hanifah Walidah (U People). Moderated by Traci Godfrey and Jason Stuart on behalf of the Screen Actors Guild LGBT Actors Committee, who were co-presenters of this panel.
Matarazzo: Stories in the paper were “The girl in Princess Diaries comes out as a lesbian!” It gave me an incredible sense of freedom, I didn’t have to hide anymore. My publicist told me “Do not come out. Never come out. And she was a raging dyke.” (audience laughs) She said “Your career will be over.” It is said that people who are bi have a 50% higher chance of getting a date on Saturday night, that’s how I feel about straight actors playing gay roles. As a woman and as a spiritual being, I feel gay, straight, black, white, it doesn’t make a difference. We always hear about the problem, there hasn’t been lot of talk about the solution. I am interested and excited to see how we can work forward, not using voices to oppose, but to utilize voices in freedom song, about how we got to break barriers, and create change. (Loud Applause from Audience.)
Stuart: Fifteen years ago I came out, and I never thought there would be a place for me.
Walidah: My career started in music, in hip hop. In the early 90’s I was the next big female MC. I looked like a dyke and no one told me! (Walidah laughs, Audience laughs) I had a voice inside that said you need to work on something else, and that something else was coming out. My show The Straight Black Folks Guide to Gay Black Folks, I changed to The Black Folks Guide to Black Folks. People stumbled in not knowing what they were walking into. I played in the deep South. I played at Harvard. I am not gonna front, I was scared in the South, but no tomatoes were thrown. I got a lot of emails after the show that were positive. My acting and writing are married together. Most of what I’ve done, I’ve created myself. I have to create it myself. There is a film coming out called Camouflage, a mockumentary. I did it years ago, saw a rough cut, and didn’t hear anything for years. Now it is surfacing.
Rivers: Look in page 43 of your NewFest guides, I am in Ebony Chunky Love, with Keith Price, who is right here in the audience, stand up Keith. (Keith stands up) I’m the Rhoda Morgenstern in the movie. (Audience laughs) I did one other movie that went directly to European Video. I did more TV than film. I did years in local news, Good Day New York, and WNBC. I got really sick of hearing fucked up attitudes about GLBT in News Department. I would hear, if you come out you’ll never work. When I was on VH1, and was a VJ with Rosie, VH1 would tell us to keep it quiet. Anyone who saw me do my half hour talk show with Liza Minnelli and saying “Tell me about Chita Rivera!” had to know I got enough drama being black. I came out locally. Recently I came out nationally in a big way, on Wake up With Whoopi. I was working on that for two years. Last year covering the AIDS Walk for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, I said how important GMHC was to me in 1992 when my lover was diagnosed. I had to work, take care of him, and get through that crisis. I haven’t felt a backlash, but it felt good being able to say that.
Audience begins questions
Q: (To Matarazzo) How did you feel showing your body in Hostel 2?
Matarazzo: For me it was a paycheck number one. On a more important note, it was a character I had never played before. The universe works in the way that it does. Getting to own my own body, and who I am, experiencing how loving the people I worked with were. They were incredibly tasteful, there was nothing to do with sex, even though I as hanging naked upside down.
Stuart: After coming out she was playing a straight girl in a horror film, a genre geared toward young straight men. You can be in a mainstream film and be who you are.
Q: Where is Alexis (Arquette) today?
Stuart: Alexis called me a few days ago and had to cancel. She is Grand Marshall of the Gay Pride Parade in
Q: Are there differences between
Rivers: I feel there is more freedom in NY and I was born and raised in LA. After VH1 I was in discussion for a talk show with Disney. I was warned before I met with the guy that he had a tendency to say stuff that is ignorant. I went in, and he said “I watched some of your work, some comes off as very gay. Should I be concerned about that?” Your current hit is The Little Mermaid, how hetero is that? He eventually was fired.
Godfrey: I lost the role of a lesbian because I didn’t come off gay enough! I’m Gay!!!
Stuart: I have played a priest, and ER doctor. I love to play the funny gay guy so I can keep working.
Q: How do you deal with closeted actors?
Matarazzo: It’s not my business. My truth is different from your truth. It’s not my business to have the audacity to say “You need to come out because of x, y, and z.” I don’t know the universe’s plan. Me as a lesbian I had fear, a range of emotions before I came out. My job is to share my experience, strength, and hope with that person.
Q: (Paul Dawson an actor from John Cameron Mitchell’s film Shortbus, is in the audience, and stands up.) It’s not about pulling people out, it is about trying to show by example. I live in LA, there are tons of closeted people. The agents, managers, publicists, they have all provided obstacles for me, many times they are gay themselves. (He goes on to commend the organization, and it is mentioned that he himself was given an award by the organization)
Stuart mention in LA on the 26th organization is hosting an event for GLBT about working with agents, managers, and casting directors. (Applause) There is a mentality that we are not going to get a job without and audition, and can’t get an audition without an agent. (References Godfrey) She has been a detective on Law and Order, and played a baby doctor on As The World Turns.
Q: Non Caucasian out actors, deal with lack of roles and such, how do you deal?
Rivers: In the early 90’s I would get called in for support roles in moves, either thug, I mean look at me! (audience laughs) or the outrageous character. It always made me mad because they were caricatures, and they were always non black writers. This is the way you see all black people? That’s when I went to T.V., and started working as an entertainment reporter.
Walidah: Sometimes, in a film, as soon as it is a black face, whites don’t relate. (Regarding racism) I am oblivious, or choose to not give it too much energy.
Q: It seems like we need to use our collective voices to offer solutions…if you don’t see the stories out there, make your own. What are your suggestions for the solutions?
Kevin from the Screen Actors Guild LGBT Actors Committee interjects: If you are a filmmaker in NY, come to Tracy, Adam, or I, and we can refer you to SAG LGBT actors.
Stuart: Stop using straight actors to play gay roles. It makes marketing harder. They don’t want to do publicity, go to the clubs, or places to promote. Having an openly gay actor in your film helps your film.
Matarazzo: I don’t look at my agent as a source, just a channel. My agents don’t get me jobs, I get me jobs, the universe gets me jobs… the minute I give my agent power is the minute I am at their mercy.
Audience Member: I find that in theater vs. TV/Film, you have more open minded agents to go to. Agents work for you. I have told agents to talk to casting directors who are open minded. It is about educating. Get open minded casting directors to talk to not so cool casting directors. On a simple individual level we can educate.