French actor calls out cinema’s gay glass ceiling

French actress Muriel Robin delivers a speech during a national homage to late French actor Michel Bouquet at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris on April 27, 2022. French cinema has been forced to question the place it reserves for LGBT performers, following a shocking testimony by Muriel Robin about her difficulties in imposing herself on screen as an openly lesbian actress. (Photo by Francois Mori / POOL / AFP)

A prominent French actor has rekindled debate over discrimination against LGBTQ performers in the country’s venerated film industry, where most roles go to straight men and women.

“I know French gay actors. They keep their mouths shut” regarding their sexuality, Muriel Robin, long one of the country’s most popular actors, told French television at the weekend.

Robin, 68, said that despite decades of widely praised stage shows, directors rarely offered her film roles because “I’m the only actor who’s revealed my homosexuality”.

She said openly LGBTQ actors could never have major careers because “if you are gay, you are not desirable”.

Aspiring actors in particular “need to be told that there’s no point in trying this career”, she said. “They won’t get any work.”

Only a few French film actors have come out publicly as LGBTQ in recent years. They include Adele Haenel, who announced in May that she was giving up acting over the industry’s “complacency” about sexual abuse.

Robin cited Hollywood star Jodie Foster, who for long kept quiet about her homosexuality.

British actor Rupert Everett has also recounted his difficulties getting roles as a gay man.

‘Very ingrained’ 

Several casting directors acknowledge that Robin’s allegations ring true.

A 2022 report by the 50/50 Collective, which combats discrimination in the film and media sectors, found that for major characters in around 100 French movies whose sexuality is known, gay or bisexual people made up just five percent.

Those roles are “strongly stereotyped” and often played by actors who are not gay or who don’t say so if they are.

“It’s not a conspiracy. It’s just something that’s very ingrained that isn’t even thought about,” said casting director Stephane Gaillard.

“Even today, actors find it extremely hard to reveal who they are,” he added.

“For a straight person, playing a gay role gives them added value. It can propel a career. But for someone who’s gay it means taking the risk of being offered just one type of role.”

Sophie Laine Diodovic, a casting director active with the 50/50 Collective, said Robin’s claims are particularly true for the biggest names, “who must always be objects of desire”.

“I’ve been told ‘this one is too gay’,” she said of one actor who did not fit the macho mould of a Gerard Depardieu or a Jean-Paul Belmondo.

She said French cinema needs “a cultural deconstruction of masculinity”, seeing progress already with the emergence of stars like Edouard Baer or Timothee Chalamet, who give a different spin on virility.

For Dominique Besnehard, a veteran actors’ agent and producer, Robin’s interview could have a salutary effect in particular on young actors, encouraging them to insist on a wider ranges of roles.

“She’s done a good thing… It’s going to get things moving,” he told BuzzTV.

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