Queer Town: Emmy-winning Director Todd Holland to Young, Gay Actors: 'Stay in the Closet'

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Mon, Jul 13, 2009 at 7:00 AM

At Outfest on Sunday afternoon, three-time Emmy winning and openly gay director Todd Holland told a small audience that he advises young, gay male actors to "stay in the closet." The remark came during a panel at the Directors Guild of America titled, "Taking It to the Streets: LGBT Directors Get Political." Outfest, which pushes the slogan "protecting our past, showcasing our

present, nurturing our future," is one of the premiere gay and lesbian film

festivals in the United States.

click to enlarge Director Todd Holland
  • Director Todd Holland

Holland, who was talking as one of the featured panelists, and who once worked as a director on the critically acclaimed HBO sit-com The Larry Sanders Show, explained that it's a necessary career choice if a gay actor wants to succeed in Hollywood.

Fellow panelist and filmmaker Kirby Dick, director of Outrage, a 2009 documentary about gay politicians who stay in the closet to further their political careers, told Holland: "I know where you're coming from, but it's a regressive argument."

Holland, who was legally married before Proposition 8 was passed by California voters in November, responded that he was just being realistic, but Dick, who is heterosexual, believed that if "an A-list actor came out, it would have more impact on the culture than an A-list politician."

No one talked about the personal repercussions of a gay actor succeeding in Hollywood by lying about his sexual orientation to the general public.

Holland's comments underscore a decades old problem in Hollywood, where gay and straight studio executives, agents, and other major players often advise up-and-coming gay, male actors to live in the closet. Rarely, though, has someone like Holland been so public with that advice.

Besides Holland and Dick, "Taking It to the Streets" featured filmmakers Jamie Babbit, Katherine Brooks, Frieda Lee Mock and Charles Herman-Wurmfield, and was billed as a discussion about how gay and lesbian filmmakers "are taking a more active role in creating social and political change."

One audience member, openly gay filmmaker Matthew Mishory, later told Queer Town that Holland's mind set is pervasive throughout the entertainment business.

"This stuff doesn't just extend to actors," says Mishory. "We've been told, as gay filmmakers, not tell queer stories or else we'll get pigeonholed." 

Mishory has just finished a film about legendary gay director Derek Jarman called Delphinium. Through that work, Mishory has come to believe that "the promise of the New Queer Cinema of the 1980s and 1990s has not necessarily been delivered."

Before the panelists started their discussion, blogger and lesbian filmmaker J.D. Disalvatore warned Outfest crowds on her blog, The Smoking Cocktail, that several of the filmmakers "were not particularly political, so looking forward to

seeing what they pull out of their asses for this one."

A few hours later, the 47-year-old Todd Holland publicly shared his "advice," with young, gay and lesbian filmmakers sitting in the audience. One person who heard the remark, and didn't want to be identified, told Queer Town, "What kind of message is that for an older gay filmmaker to send to young gay filmmakers? It's the kind of thing that will keep people in the closet."

(Correction: A previous version of this post stated that Kirby Dirk is gay. That is incorrect. The filmmaker is heterosexual.)

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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