By Doug Kayne
In the movie, Ruby Rose plays Jaxx Herd, one of the key personnel on the Mana One underwater research facility. Rose has also recently been cast as Kate Kane/Batwoman in the Arrowverse shows on the CW. Unfortunately, her casting as Kane has come under criticism from some because she is not “lesbian enough”. This is not long after Scarlett Johannson came under fire for being cast as the transgender man Dante “Tex” Gill in Rub and Tug (she has since dropped out of the project).
This is a disturbing trend, because the question remains as to who can play what roles? How is Rose, a member of the LGBTQ community “not lesbian enough” to play a fictional character? Now, I recognize the can of worms I am opening up here, but bear with me. Did people complain from 2005 to 2014 when Neil Patrick Harris, a gay man, was cast as the VERY heterosexual Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother? Have we forgotten the rave reviews the not-gay Chyler Leigh received for playing coming-out-of-the-closet Alex Danvers on Supergirl? Should we be appalled by the gay actor Jim Parsons playing the asexual-but-married-to-a-woman Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory?
Now, I understand that, as a white, heterosexual male, I have no real dog in this fight. But, that is where you are wrong. It might be alarmist, but there is a dangerous slippery slope here. Using the logic of those against Rose’s casting, I would be unable to appear in a production of Fiddler on the Roof, because I am “not Jewish enough”. Are actors and actresses only allowed to portray roles that they are easily identifiable as?
Performing onstage with Split Decision, I have portrayed characters including – but not limited to – a hunchbacked lab assistant, a drag queen, Stephen Hawking, a morbidly obese man, Jesus, a long-haired aging rocker, a blind detective, a fairy godmother, a caveman, Jar Jar Binks, a bottle of ketchup, and a sarcastic heckling shark. I do not easily identify with any of these with the exception of one (I’ll let you figure out which one that is). And, in improv, all of these character choices are valid, so long as they fit the scene. No one is there telling me that I cannot play these characters. In fact, we all encourage each other to play a wide variety of characters, not once saying we are “not _____ enough” to play them.
I remember being in improv class a few years ago (before we came to our current home at Joy Theatre). I was performing onstage with a man who was old enough to be my father, yet labeled him as my fourteen-year-old son. It was a fun scene. We both “yes and-ed” the shit out of it. And, yet, one of the notes we received from the teacher was, “He’s too old to play your son.” Luckily, my compatriots in Split Decision are more encouraging to each other. We want each other to play different types of characters, whether we fit that type or not.
While I recognize the improv-on-stage experience does not translate to the larger entertainment world (and politically correct world in general), it is a slippery slope. Does this mean I won’t be able to play Shakespeare’s version of Richard III in film because I’m not “rudely stamp’d”, “deformed, unfinish’d”, or am able to “strut before a wanton, ambling nymph”? If so, I suppose I’d better throw away my aim to play a superhero, since I don’t actually have powers. And heaven forbid I get cast as the next Wolverine, since I’m taller than 5’3” (come to think of it, Hugh Jackman, at 6’2”, is also).
Maybe it’s time to recognize that the inclusion of Kate Kane/Batwoman is yet one more positive step towards showing a further acceptance of LGBTQ superheroes. And, congratulations are in order for Ruby Rose who, as a member of the LGBTQ community, gets to play a role she would have loved to have seen on television when she was growing up. She now gets to have a positive impact on others while playing a dream role.
I am reminded of an often-told story regarding the movie Marathon Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier. The story reads as this: Hoffman’s character had supposedly stayed up for three days. He admitted he had not slept for 72 hours in order to be sufficiently in-character. “My dear boy,” Olivier replied, “why don’t you just try acting?”