Ian McKellen: Hollywood still discriminates against gay people & black people


Over the holidays, I finally got around to seeing Mr. Holmes, the critically acclaimed film about Sherlock Holmes’ last case. Ian McKellen was the ancient Sherlock, and he was actually quite brilliant. So brilliant, I kind of wonder why he wasn’t a bigger part in the awards discussion. Ian has been nominated for two Oscars in his life, along with a slew of other awards for stage and screen. Most of those nominations and awards came after Ian came out of the closet. But I’m willing to acknowledge that Ian is sort of gay unicorn, much like Neil Patrick Harris: they are out gay men accepted by the “mainstream” to a large extent, possibly because they’re white men. Why do I bring this up? Ian has said some words about #OscarsSoWhite, and he draws a larger correlation with the groups shunned by the industry: women, LGBT and actors of color.

Sir Ian McKellen has told Sky News he has “sympathy” for black people in Hollywood who feel discriminated against but added that gay people are also still being “disregarded”. The 76-year-old, who is gay and a co-founder of the rights group Stonewall, said criticism surrounding the lack of diversity among nominees at the Oscars is “legitimate”.

Sir Ian said: “As a representative of the industry they’re in, it’s receiving complaints which I fully sympathise with. It’s not only black people who’ve been disregarded by the film industry, it used to be women, it’s certainly gay people to this day. And these are all legitimate complaints and the Oscars are the focus of those complaints of course.”

[From Sky News]

I don’t have a problem with what he says. He’s practicing “yes and” activism/alliance and he seems open to intersectionality. He’s not saying it’s a competition to see which is the most aggrieved group, he’s just saying that these groups (black people, LGBT and women) are largely disregarded by Hollywood stories. And he’s right.

In another interview Monday, this time with the Guardian, Ian pointed out something really interesting: no openly gay actor has won the Oscar. He said: “No openly gay man has ever won the Oscar; I wonder if that is prejudice or chance.” He pointed out that Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sean Penn have all won Oscars for playing gay men but, “What about giving me one for playing a straight man? My speech has been in two jackets … ‘I’m proud to be the first openly gay man to win the Oscar.’ I’ve had to put it back in my pocket twice.” Damn, that actually tugged on my heartstrings a little bit. Even if Ian never wins the Oscar for acting, I have to think he’s got one coming for lifetime achievement, right?

Photos courtesy of Getty, Fame/Flynet and Pacific Coast News.

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57 Responses to “Ian McKellen: Hollywood still discriminates against gay people & black people”

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  1. Pinky says:

    Ian McKellen for the M-Fin’ win!

    He’s right and he is one of the greatest actors ever. The Academy’d better recognize!


    • t.fanty says:

      He deserves every award. Hell, we should invent a few awards, just to give them to Sir Ian.

    • Naya says:

      Nah! Leo not having an Oscar is the real outrage. Thank goodness, a major studio is plugging big money into rectifying this gross injustice. Lord knows a young straight wealthy white man like Leo would otherwise be handicapped in that race.

    • Liv says:

      I think he’s right. It’s not just about black actors/directors, but about other ethnics, women, gays as well. It’s good that there’s a discussion now, but we should include everyone. Point is, the academy has to change. Maybe Hollywood will follow when there are people who actually vote for films with minorities.

      • GreenAcres says:

        I mean I feel like he’s basically pointing out that if you’re not straight, white and male you get put in a stereotype. It’s a shame in my opinion that groups that have been sidelined on occasion spend time bickering on who was sidelined more than working together to bring real change. It’s all the same fight for recognition and respect.

      • Petra says:

        No one should get an award nomination they don’t deserve solely because of their gender or race. Many talented white individuals have also never won. E.g. Ridley Scott. All the talented ones eventually win e.g. Denzel, Morgan Freeman. You have to wait for an Academy award sometimes for a lifetime.

    • Miss Jupitero says:

      I adore him. More awards for Ian!

  2. Mia4s says:

    If you want further evidence of how useless the Oscars are look no further than Ian losing for Gods and Monsters to Roberto Benini. Uggghhhhh!

    All this drive and longing for Academy recognition is giving the Academy the appearance of importance and credibility they never had and don’t deserve.

    • Aussie girl says:

      Well said.

    • Naya says:

      I loved the Benini film. It was also a big deal that he won best actor for a “foreign language” film. We hoped it would be a sign that one day an unknown actor in an Asian or African or Latin American production could win too. Anyway I gotta say I have no issues with the academys choice that year.

    • jammypants says:

      I never understood the fuss over the Academy.

  3. Nancy says:

    Hello Captain Obvious…..he’ right, but he should add women of a certain age, anyone of a certain weight, unless they’re the funny sidekick and the list goes on and on. So good luck to anyone who isn’t a thin, attractive white person.

    • Denisemich says:

      Ummm. Kathy Bates, Moni’que, Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench and Octavia Spencer were all over-weight when they won oscars. All but Jennifer Hudson were considered middle aged for hollywood.

      • SusanneToo says:

        And don’t forget Nurse Rachet-Louise Fletcher who was middle aged when she won BSA.

      • FingerBinger says:

        Hattie McDaniel the first african american to win was an overweight middle aged woman.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        Frances McDormand was fortyish when she played the very pregnant Margie Gunderson, and she bagged that statue. I wouldn’t call her a pixie, and she has chosen to age gracefully instead of jumping on the botox wagon.

        All this said, there is systemic sexism all over in Hollywood– all of these women not withstanding. I am totally fine with talking about how opportunities vanish for older women. It’s true.

      • LAK says:

        Whoopi goldberg. Not exactly an oil painting.

        this conversation is really interesting because i always think the ladies who win the Best supporting category are super talented whilst the ones who win the best actress category lack talent and are there due to other reasons to do with talent.

      • justagirl says:

        @Denisemich I think all those women won for Best Supporting, IIRC?

        If anything, the Supporting categories are where the Academy sometimes throws a bone to the various disenfranchised groups, ie. not thin, attractive white people…which is almost an acknowledgement that they are aware there is a problem.

        That could also be reflected in studios who campaign for nominations, knowing that certain ‘types’ stand a better chance in the Supporting category…it’s all very institutionalized.

      • denisemich says:

        Yeah, all supporting actresses. Leading ladies can be old but not fat.

      • SusanneToo says:

        I need to amend my earlier post-Louise Fletcher won BA. Shirley Booth and Simone Signoret were both middle aged and chubby when they won their BA Oscars. But, it’s true, most Oscars have gone to not quite old, not unattractive actresses.

      • Denisemich says:

        I disagree. All of those women became heavy later in life. They were not overweight or fat at the time they received an oscar.

      • SusanneToo says:

        @Denise. I didn’t say Shirley or Simone were fat, but chubby, which to me, at least, denotes not svelte, a bit outside the sleek look most of the other winners sported. They looked more like average women which suited the characters they played.

  4. Sixer says:

    I think, as well, it might be clearer to Surian because the British theatre community is, and always has been, a very gay-friendly zone.

    Personally, I still haven’t forgiven Hollywood for outing poor Nigel Hawthorne when he was nominated for The Madness of King George.

  5. SBS says:

    I think he’s making a great point and I’m glad he’s not making it an either-or thing or a competition. Hopefully any changes made to the AMPAS and the industry will promote diversity in general.

  6. Alex says:

    Great point I have nothing bad to say about it.

  7. serena says:

    He surely deserves one :( I adore him, he’s really great in every aspect.

  8. QQ says:

    Oh look an Old white Hollywood ALLY that knows is not the oppression olympics AND has space and capacity for more than one group on his plate, wonder if he can teach a seminar or put a gd leaflet in their Oscar swag bags

  9. The Eternal Side-Eye says:

    For those who keep arguing there’s no privelage.

    There’s your privelage.

    It is not that every white person has a million dollars. It is that we are all born with advantages we did not work for, advantages that society has decided are of enough value that put some of us on a natural higher tier. Advantages that in many cases simply can not be bought or worked hard enough to achieve.

    Someone can have privelage in one way (being straight) and not be as privelaged in others (being disabled) and the ability to deny something that has been studied, recorded, and proven to be true repeatedly simply because you refuse to believe it (that society does not reward and treat everyone equally) is a big ol privelage.

    Ian is a white man, but also a gay man, it puts him in better (more accepting) circles than say a transgender man but it’s still on some level unfairly harmed his career for something he can not control and that harms no one.

    • Miss Jupitero says:


      And thank you for bringing up transgendered actors. There has been much talk in the trans community about how The Danish Girl could have brought in an actual transgendered actress for the role.

      • jammypants says:

        Especially after the cringeworthy caricature of a performance Eddie put in and somehow managing to snag a nom.

    • I Choose Me says:

      Eternal Side-Eye you have no idea how I look forward to your posts on this topic and others. I’ve learned so much from these discussions and I just wanted to say thank you.

  10. lovemesseg says:

    I am so happy #Oscarssowhite has taken off and into so many directions.

  11. Eleonor says:

    He is right, and the point about Tom Hanks and Sean Penn winning an oscar for playing gay men is totally spot on.

    • Who ARE these people? says:

      It is, as if it’s an amazing feat of acting for a straight person to play a gay person. Similar to wins for playing people with mental illness. A gimmick. Sheesh.

    • FingerBinger says:

      McKellen is not spot on. Philip Seymour Hoffman won an oscar for playing Truman Capote. A writer that happened to be gay. Capote’s sexual orientation wasn’t central to the film.

  12. FLORC says:

    I like him so much. A bit shocked he’s never won! There are loads of actors both gay and straight, back, white, fat, thin that should have won, but haven’t. That should have been nominated, but haven’t.
    The issue is real. It’s just greater than we think.

    Maybe i’m burned out on this, but nothing will change. A few more diversity favorable noms will be added for maybe next year. Jokes rewritten. A sketch change in the works. People will soon all forget. Everything will resume almost as it was before.
    But maybe things will change? it’s not exclusively white male as it once was. This just won’t happen overnight. And it won’t happen without followthrough. And in a world where causes get support though clicks and 140 character statements could the momentum last long enough to make change?

    • vauvert says:

      I am a bit more optimistic just because if things can change in business and other industries, hopefully they can change in HW too. It is ironic in a way because “the arts” have generally been a haven for gay people, even though many were living in closets for fear of losing their popular appeal if they acknowledged being gay. Sir Ian absolutely deserves an Oscar and o hope to see him get one, even an achievement one. He really is a treasure.

      Back to the bigger picture: things are changing, albeit too slow. I was talking to my husband yesterday about this and #OscarsSoWhite and his company, for example, is actively and genuinely pursuing a strong diversifying policy, promoting minorities in every way possible, being inclusive.
      But, change starts at the top. We need the folks with power to make the first move. I guess in HW that would be producers or the guts who finance movies? Because in order to get to the awards, first you need scripts were POC are not the maids and thugs, and gay people are not just the sassy sidekicks. Then you need to cast a diversity of actors, and to Ian’s point, he doesn’t get an Oscar for playing straight… But Tom did for playing a gay man. (Not saying Tom did not deliver a fantastic performance, but why not cast a gay man in the first place??) Reminds me of the time Barrowman was deemed “too straight” for the role of Will in Will and Grace, which was so ridiculous. Anyway, here is to hope for better days😃 And to an Oscar for the fabulously talented and all around great person that is Ian.

    • Petra says:

      Hollywood is about dollars. Profits are now made in international markets and they don’t care a fig about diversity it’s about international star appeal. If you are an international star with international appeal you will get cast e.g. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington etc. You need global appeal and the X factor. Someone like Lupita does not have the X factor, Halle Berry did. Meryl Streep did, Judi Dench does. It’s called star appeal.

  13. Ann says:

    It USED to be women? USED to be? What a twat.

    • vauvert says:

      Ahem… There are awards for best actress, and best supporting actress. I think that is what he refers to. In the acting category women are not competing against male actors.

      • Robin says:

        Ahem! He’s talking about the FILM INDUSTRY, not the Oscars specifically. See where he says, “film industry” right before he says “used to be”? There’s no “used to be” about discrimination against women in the film industry.

      • Ann says:

        These two awards make up only a small percentage of the awards being handed out.

        Over the past 17 years, the number of women directing the top 250 grossing films declined by 2%, according to a new study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.”

        “Women were best represented as producers (23%) followed by executive producers (19%), editors (18%), writers (11%) and cinematographers (5%). Although there are more female executive producers and cinematographers working today than there were in 1998, the percentage of women working as writers, editors and producers have all dropped.”

        “Women accounted for 1% of all composers and 5% of all sound designers and supervising sound designers.”

        “Women comprise anywhere from a third to over a half of students at major film schools, Lauzen said.”


    • K says:

      Thank you! He doesn’t say it is still an issue with women he says it USE to be a problem with women and I was unaware that had been taken care of. Explains why only what 4 women have ever even been nominated for director. Or why 20 somethings are playing the part for 30/40/50 year olds.

      Sorry but he said use to about women and it’s not use too.

      • Trixie says:

        Yeah I know right? I LOVE this mans acting, I think its great he is openly gay and still has a very lucrative career – but women USED to have discrimination?

        Elder gays can be such bloody contrary minded sexists – and I note no one is losing their shit online about it 0 because women ALWAYS get the short straw…

  14. frantasticstar says:

    What about Asian actors???? Nobody has mentioned them once! If you have to be inclusive, BE INCLUSIVE.

    • lila fowler says:

      Truly one of the most underrepresented groups. It’s a pity they don’t speak out more, or that no one speaks up for them.

  15. Sarah01 says:

    Totally agree with what he said.
    Due to the stigma attached around gay actors / actresses a lot of them especially the men have to hide their sexual orientation, it’s their right to disclose or not but there shouldn’t be fear of losing roles or damaging their career.
    i really admire Alan Cumming who is openly gay and is excellent on screen and theatre.

  16. Ilove6kies says:

    Sadly Ian; not just Hollywood, but the rest of the world still :(

  17. Betti says:

    LOVE. HIM. He’s my eternal older man crush – i love Vicious with him and Derek Jacobi (another out man who is also a sublime actor).

    Totally agree on his point about straight men winning awards for playing gay men but why can’t they give an award to a gay man playing a straight man. Effed up world we live in.

  18. AnotherDirtyMartini says:

    AND WOMEN, Sir Ian! And all people of color!

  19. Greenieweenie says:

    I saw Mr. Holmes too. It was just such a neat film, with depth, and I thought his acting was lovely. Nuanced and careful and right on the mark. Such an unusual little film too. I haven’t seen The Revenant because I dislike Leo DiCaprio boy melodrama-style of acting. I’m not an actor obviously but there is no way anything Leo did that is better than McKellan’s Holmes this year.

  20. omy says:

    So you can’t be gay AND black????
    White allies doing the most as usual.