Does Lesbian Typecasting Still Happen?

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Just one of the many interesting tidbits that came out of the Clexacon actress panels is that several of the panelists noted that in the mid- to late 2000s they’d encountered the possibility of “lesbian typecasting:” After having played lesbian roles, all the sudden they were ending up in auditions to play more lesbians. The fact that they were aware of this possibility was not, however, the interesting part. The interesting part was that their response to possible lesbian typecasting, regardless of their personal sexual orientation, was an enthusiastic, “Hell yeah!” Back in the early 2000s and before, it was the norm for actresses to worry that taking even one lesbian role would lead to perpetual typecasting (as we discussed in this previous article). Clearly, something has changed since then to shift their perception of the risk and reward. What was it?

To take a step back for a moment, we have to first acknowledge that typecasting is, was, and always will be a part of Hollywood. Want a ditsy, slightly hippy chick? Call Zoe Deschanel. A tough as nails badass who slings a gun like she came out of the womb toting it? Michelle Rodriguez is on speed dial. An exotic vixen (who sometimes also carries guns or is surrounded by exploding objects)? Olivia Wilde and Megan Fox can duke that one out (it works for men as well: Jason Statham is unlikely to ever be in an 1800s period piece, for example, but will still be around for “The Expendables 9,” once we get there.) Although typecasting can be frustrating for actresses who want to take on a variety of highly disparate roles, other actresses consciously lean into it. Rodriguez, for example, told HollywoodNews.com in 2010 that she would only take roles in which her character was someone:

I respect or someone that I consider interesting or fun. I’m here to entertain people and make a statement about female empowerment and strength and that’s what I’ve done for the last 10 years, and people can call it typecast, but I pigeonholed myself and I put myself in that box for saying no to everything else that came on my plate. Saying no to the girlfriend, saying no to the girl that gets captured, no to this, no to that. And eventually I just got left with the strong chick that’s always being killed and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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And Ali Liebert told AfterEllen in 2013: “I’m very happy to be typecast.  If people want to cast me as gay for the rest of my life, I would be thrilled. Like, my thing before lesbians was I would play secretaries and waitresses. I’ve probably played like 20 secretaries and waitresses. I think that I do working class very well; I do blue collar very well. But yeah, one of my friends calls me ‘Canada’s Favorite Lesbian’ and I would love to wear that crown.” (The crown is yours, Ali. Wear it proudly.)

Phrased that way, Rodriguez and Liebert make an excellent point (although it also brings up an alarming point worth investigating about whether Hollywood unconsciously punishes strong female characters by killing them off, like a subliminal message to viewers that obedient and non-confrontational women are more socially acceptable). If typecasting in general exists, does “lesbian typecasting” exist in 2017? It’s hard to tell exactly from the outside, but the answer seems to be both yes and no.

Kate Moennig told AfterEllen in January that typecasting was alive and well in Hollywood and that she’d struggled with it throughout her career. Indeed, her resume attests to it: in 1999 she auditioned for the role of Brandon Teena in “Boys Don’t Cry” that eventually netted Hillary Swank an Oscar, then in 2000 starred on the show “Young Americans” playing a girl passing as male in order to attend a boy’s school. In 2003, she played a male to female trans person on “Law and Order.” From 2004-2009, she played Shane on “The L Word,” then played a lesbian character in the movies “Art School Confidential” (2006) and “Everybody’s Fine” (2009), and on the TV shows “Dexter” (2010) and “Ray Donovan” (2013-2016). Looking at Moennig’s IMDb page, fewer than half of her roles have been heterosexual, cisgendered women.

Kate Moennig in Young Americans

Kate Moennig in Young Americans

Then again, Moennig’s experience seems to be an outlier from that of other most actresses who have played queer roles, perhaps because both she and her lesbian characters were all relatively androgynous and because Moennig was never given the opportunity to establish a resume of other roles in which she played gender-conforming, “traditional” straight women. In an industry in which women are expected to be feminine and glamorous, Hollywood was stuck in a mindset of seeing her as “androgynous,” which to casting directors was a limiting factor.

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