If you were to ask me – a woman who considers herself to be a great connoisseur of beautiful men – who is the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, I’d have to say Jared Leto. He is it for me (though Johnny Depp is a close second.) I’m not talking beauty plus brains, personality, character or anything else but just sheer physical beauty. It’s no wonder that Oliver Stone cast him as Hephaestion – the love of Alexander the Great’s life – in “Alexander.”
So naturally, I was delighted to see Leto as the frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar March 2 for his role as a transgender prostitute in “Dallas Buyers Club.” And just as distressed to see a fatuous Time magazine piece titled “Don’t Applaud Jared Leto’s Transgender ‘Mammy’,” in which Steve Friess likens Leto’s gender portrayal to the racial cliché of Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy in “Gone With The Wind.”
There are so many misguided ideas in this article that it isn’t even funny. First off, Mammy is perhaps the wisest and most loving character in “Gone With the Wind,” someone who knows Rhett and Scarlett for who they are and loves them just the same. She’s also self-righteous, priggish and snobbish, and Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar-winning turn captures that complexity.
But Friess isn’t just saying that Leto’s and McDaniel’s characters are stereotypes. He’s suggesting the “Dallas Buyers Club” producers should’ve cast a transgender actor in the Leto role, which is like saying that only drug addicts should portray drug addicts, or that I, a straight woman, had no business writing about gay men in my new novel “Water Music” and the upcoming “In This Place You Hold Me.”
My characters and I meet – as do Leto and his performance – on the bridge of the imagination. Of course, Hollywood is more comfortable casting straight people in LGBT parts like the (also beautiful) Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Brokeback Mountain.” But that doesn’t mean that one day a transgender actor won’t be the straight man – or woman.
Step by step, people, step by step is how we’ll get there.