Two-time Academy Awards nominee Ian McKellen has spoken out about the lack of diversity in the film industry, as it relates to being acknowledged by the Oscars (and landing the kind of roles that could yield gold-plated glory). “The fact that black people feel underrepresented in studio movies and big movies…well, it’s what women thought for a long time,” he said in an interview with the U.K.’s Press Association. “It’s what gay people like myself still think. And it’s a legitimate complaint and the Oscars has become the focus of those worries. So I sympathize.”
In another interview, McKellen spoke about black actors being “ill-treated and underestimated” and shared his personal story of Oscar loss. Writes The Guardian:
“No openly gay man has ever won the Oscar; I wonder if that is prejudice or chance,” he said, with the implication that he felt it tended towards the former.
Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sean Penn have all won best actor Oscars for playing gay men. “How clever, how clever,” said McKellen. “What about giving me one for playing a straight man?
“My speech has been in two jackets … ‘I’m proud to be the first openly gay man to win the Oscar.’ I’ve had to put it back in my pocket twice.”
Openly gay men and women have won Oscars, though it’s true that no actor has won while he or she was out. (Joel Grey came out last year, almost 42 years after winning Best Supporting Actor for Cabaret, and Jodi Foster kind of came out years after winning for 1988's The Accused and 1991's The Silence of the Lambs. John Gielgud, who won for Arthur in 1982, apparently never officially came out, despite being named in the Rukkle listicle linked to above.) Out gay men and women typically aren’t cast in the types of leading/attention-grabbing roles that win Oscars and there continue to be whispers about A-list actors who refuse to come out (...probably because they want to have the chance for the kind of career that yields them Oscars).
This has been today’s lesson in Hollywood’s anemic population representation and why it and its awards system occupies way too much cultural space.