Will transgender actor Eddie Izzard help create change?

Eddie Izzard, left and Carla Juri in Six Minutes to Midnight. Picture: Supplied
Eddie Izzard, left and Carla Juri in Six Minutes to Midnight. Picture: Supplied

It might not seem remarkable that Eddie Izzard co-wrote and plays the lead role of Thomas Miller in Six Minutes to Midnight. What makes it interesting is that Izzard is transgender and now goes by "she" and "her" pronouns.

She's not the only prominent actor to "come out" (for want of a better term) in an LGBTIQ+ way. Increasing numbers of actors are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual and trans actors are also declaring themselves as such. Elliot (formerly Ellen) Page is another prominent example.

"Coming out" used to be unthinkable even after laws were finally amended, seen as career suicide even for actors who traded on a campy or "sissy" persona - Paul Lynde, Liberace, Edward Everett Horton. And some actors who did come out, like Rupert Everett, expressed regrets at how it limited their careers, while for others, like Ian McKellen, it didn't seem to matter as much. McKellen was not seen as a matinee idol type, though.

As more LGBTQ+ people "come out" it will be interesting to see what might change in the film business. Will Hollywood studios, traditionally quite risk-averse in an inherently risky business, become more accepting? Or will fears that non-heterosexual stars might affect box office takings keep closet doors firmly locked and "segregation" maintained?

Will major stars - including those who are or might be seen to be traditionally masculine or feminine sex symbols- feel able to come out without damaging their careers? If straight actors can play gay roles, why not vice versa? It's all about suspension of disbelief, after all, and how good the performances are - or if not, it should be. And maybe the increasing openness will lead to more, and more prominent, LGBTIQ+ representation on screen as well as as off.

It's sad to say but the trailblazers are probably still aptly described as brave, weighing up personal happiness and identity with a potential risk to their careers. Obviously, people can do what they feel is best for them, and in an ideal world it wouldn't matter but apparently it often still does, especially for movies.

It will be interesting to see how awards ceremonies deal with this, too. Linda Hunt won a best supporting actress Oscar for playing a male character in The Year of Living Dangerously (1983). Will there, at some point, be an erasure of the actor/actress categories, or a genderless or transgender category added?

Ron Cerabona

This story Can movies embrace gender diversity more? first appeared on The Canberra Times.