DC finally casts gay Green Lantern — but raises new questions
After weeks of reports, HBO Max has officially filled the role of Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern of Earth who came out as gay in the pages of DC Comics, for the upcoming Lantern series from Arrowverse architect Greg Berlanti. And... well, it's the guy from that Roland Emmerich Stonewall movie that we all collectively tried to forget.
Also known for movies like War Horse and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and shows like Treadstone and Life Bites, actor Jeremy Irvine confirmed his casting in a post shared on Instagram Thursday.
"Very excited to be joining the DC Universe!! Can't wait to get started. #GreenLantern," Irvine wrote. He then shared the oath of the Latern Corps: "In brightest day, in blackest night/ No evil shall escape my sight/ Let those who worship evil's might/ Beware my power — Green Lantern's light!"
The significance of this character is clear to anyone who's even skimmed through comic book Twitter over the years. In addition to being Earth's first hero to bear the Green Lantern name and one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, Alan came out of the closet in 2012, making him one of the most prominent depictions of LGBTQ characters in comic books. More recently, he spoke on the page about his experience being gay in the issue Infinite Frontier #0.
For the new show, which spans decades, Alan will feature in the year 1941 as a secretly gay FBI agent. This marks the first time the character will appear on screen in live-action in a way that addresses his sexuality. He's a precious character to many comic fans — which raises questions regarding this latest casting.
Irvine has proven himself to be an impressive actor, though it's hard to divorce his portrayal of a famous gay comics hero from that widely loathed movie, in which he played a gay man in the midst of the most well-known moment in the American LGBTQ rights movement.
Irvine starred in Stonewall, which was criticized for its whitewashing of the Stonewall riots, as Danny Winters. The character was fictionalized and not based on any one real-life figure. Instead of focusing on trans and queer revolutionaries that spearheaded the movement, like Marsha P. Johnson, Emmerich's film framed the story around Danny. One scene even saw the character take the famous Stonewall brick from the hands of a queer person of color and throw it himself to spark the movement — a perfect symbol for how the film took the story of Black and Brown queer people away from them and claimed it as something else.
The backlash from the LGBTQ community was only exacerbated by Emmerich, who repeatedly defended the decision to depict Stonewall in that way. In one particular interview with BuzzFeed, the filmmaker said, "You have to understand one thing: I didn't make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people. I kind of found out, in the testing process, that actually, for straight people, [Danny] is a very easy in. Danny's very straight-acting. He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him."
Irvine was more thoughtful in his defense of the film. He remarked to The Daily Beast how the controversy, in a way, helped educate audiences.
"I don't think any of us expected it to get the attention that it has," he told the outlet. "But now how many people have heard the name Marsha P. Johnson, opposed to never having heard it before? Wow. I was out last night and had a few groups of people come up to me and wanted to talk about the film. They wanted to know if Marsha P. Johnson was going to be a part of the movie and I was like, 'Yeah! But also, how cool that you are all talking about that.'"
Irvine's casting as Danny — and now also Alan — further speaks to the ongoing conversation still happening in Hollywood about straight actors taking on gay roles. It's not just a matter of authenticity in the portrayal of queer lives, but about LGBTQ actors working to be seen on an equal playing field as their heterosexual counterparts. Despite clear strides in this space — shoutout to Jonathan Bailey taking the lead in Bridgerton — it's still an issue.
This kind of discussion has not gone away. Instead, it has received second, third, and fourth winds. Kate Winslet notably addressed this topic with The Sunday Times in an April interview in which she revealed she knew "at least four actors absolutely hiding their sexuality" out of "fear [of] being found out."
"I cannot tell you the number of young actors I know — some well known, some starting out — who are terrified their sexuality will be revealed and that it will stand in the way of their being cast in straight roles," she said. The Oscar winner also made mention of "a well-known actor" who "just got an American agent and the agent said, 'I understand you are bisexual. I wouldn't publicize that.'"
For straight actors in a position of depicting LGBTQ people, it's about engaging with the conversation in a meaningful way. Irvine has made a point not to speak publicly about his private life or his sexuality, though he has had girlfriends, including Ellie Goulding. In a 2015 interview with DailyXtra, he was asked about how his sexuality informed his performance as a gay man in Stonewall.
"It was irrelevant in a way," he said. "It's such a wonderful time we're in now... There were a lot of gay actors in this movie, there were a lot of straight actors, but we all had to fight to get our roles. And we all got our roles because we were the best actors for that role."
This discussion has not gone away. Instead, the trend persists. Henry Golding, as a straight actor who stepped into a gay role for the film Monsoon, spoke with EW last year, recognizing that it's an "extremely layered conversation."
"I think it really comes down to understanding each and every angle when it comes to a topic like that," Golding said. "It's understanding what the struggles have been, why there's a camp that says gay characters should only be played by gay people versus the camp that says actors should be able to mimic or become who their character is. Representation needs to be truthful on screen, but then does that limit artistry? It's a merry-go-round of conversation and I think neither really… how should I put it… neither are right, neither are wrong."
Irvine isn't necessarily at fault for taking on the role of Alan in Green Lantern, nor does it mean he's preternaturally incapable of portraying the character. Yet, the stain left by Stonewall and everything surrounding that movie remains hard to ignore when considering such a significant LGBTQ role like Alan. And unfortunately, Irvine is the face of both those roles.
There's a hopeful solace in the form of Berlanti's involvement. The producer, an out gay man who's brought some of the most prominent LGBTQ depictions to the superhero TV space, has a proven track record when it comes to casting that shouldn't be dismissed. (Caity Lotz as Sara Lance on Legends of Tomorrow, Javicia Leslie as Batwoman, Nicole Maines as Dreamer on Supergirl, etc.) Berlanti writes and executive produces Green Lantern with Marc Guggenheim and showrunner Seth Grahame-Smith. Hopefully we'll soon see what they see from Irvine.