Why James Franco’s New Role Is Controversial, Yet Ironic

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

James Franco has signed on for another role that has people raising eyebrows — not the first time, and likely not the last — but his next film is important for more reasons than just controversy. Franco will play the role of Michael Glatze in the upcoming film I Am Michael, a movie based on an article written by the former co-worker of “reformed” homosexual Michael Glatze. Glatze had written his own article about his transformation back to heterosexuality through religion.

He was, for a long time, a passionate gay rights activist, and a founding editor for Young Gay America, a name which has continued under different leadership at present, and writer for XY magazine. The Young Gay America magazine sought to combat teen suicide and targeted a young gay audience, but somewhere along the way Glatze took a very different turn. “Homosexuality, delivered to young minds, is by its very nature pornographic. It destroys impressionable minds and confuses their developing sexuality; I did not realize this, however, until I was 30 years old,” wrote Glatze in an op-ed for World Net Daily. For obvious reasons, his public discourse was highly controversial and received a great deal of backlash and discussion.

The role in interesting for a couple of reasons, not least of which is that it gives voice to the experience of a man with a very public and for many, very upsetting, transformation. Many films have been made about the difficulty in overcoming prejudice and coming out, and there has also been cinematic commentary on the church’s influence in LGBT matters.

Given the fact that same-sex marriage is still a controversial and pressing issue today, and that bigotry is still alive and well, these films remain highly relevant. But Glatze’s movie — produced by Gus Van Sant (Milk) — shows that same issue without the identity transformation that’s expected, quite the opposite. For his part, Glatze has seen the film and says that he’s quite happy with it. “I met him in person for the first time here at the festival,’ said Franco of Glatze, referring to the Sundance Film Festival, according to Pink News. “He made a point to come up to me and thank me, and he said he loved the movie. I think it was very healing for him.”

While the film, and Glatze, have their own set of controversies, perhaps some of the most interesting commentary came from Franco himself, discussing his decision to take on the role. In particular, he talked about the influence some of his acting roles — such as Brokeback Mountain or Milk — have had on public discourse about his sexuality.

That’s what part of being in the public eye is. You become a fixture of discussion. If I do a film where I play a stoner, people will think I’m a stoner. And if I play in a movie where I have a boyfriend, then some people will want to think that I have a boyfriend. It’s just part of being a public figure,” he told InsideBayArea.

But for many in Hollywood in the past, this “part of being in the public eye” has been a concern that would dissuade them from taking certain roles, and can be generalized to LGBT rights activism in general — this fear of being seen as gay because one supports members of the LGBT community, something that inherently is problematic as it suggests there’s something upsetting about being mistaken as gay (I’m sure there are plenty of people who are gay that are not horrified if people mistake them for straight).

“Even in the last 10 years, there has been a real change insofar as the stigma or the danger of taking on a gay role, whether you are a straight actor or a gay actor. (But) I believe it’s never enough if you weigh it against the way it should be,” said Franco to InsideBayArea. Danger is a very appropriate word given the possible effect on career options in the past if an actor or actress came out as gay — something that’s been discussed by those in the industry, such as as Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia De Rossi. The fact that this is changing is another sign that the cultural acceptance of same-sex relationships is also changing at a rapid pace, something polls have shown to be true even across older generations. In that way, Franco’s role in I Am Michael is actually ironically symbolic of how the industry and nation as a whole has changed for the better.

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