Gayface, Sexual equality

Document Type

Research Paper


In 2009, veteran funny man Jim Carrey, best known for his zany and nearly cartoonish live-action performances—perhaps none more literally than in the 1994 film the Mask (Russell, 1994)—stretched his comedic boundaries with his portrayal of real- life con artist Steven Jay Russell in the film I Love You Phillip Morris (Requa, Ficarra, 2009). Despite earning critical success and some of Carrey’s highest praises of his career, it made many filmgoers who saw it turn their heads in wonder, though not for Carrey’s distinct yet animated leading performance. What gained the attention of many critics were his scenes with co-star Ewan McGregor, who played the eponymous character and the target of Russell’s affections (Requa, Ficarra, 2009). Audiences were not caught off guard by the fact that the characters were gay; homosexuality had already broken through to the mainstream within the previous decade with films like American Beauty and Rent. It was, rather, that the actors themselves were not gay. However, they never let it show or undermine the believability of the roles they played. As expected, the stars received much of the acclaim, but the film does represent a peculiar quandary in the ethical value of straight actors in gay roles. This practice is known as gayface, which, though commonly used to encompass all queer identities, also has counterparts that are more specific in transsexuality. Nonetheless, despite the apprehension they elicit, performances like these exemplify the need to tolerate and encourage gayface for the prospect of sexual equality.



Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Acting; Homosexuality and motion pictures; Heterosexuals


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