Was ‘Your Name Engraved Herein’ a Missed Opportunity To Discover LGBTQ Talent?

Was ‘Your Name Engraved Herein’ a Missed Opportunity To Discover LGBTQ Talent?
Photo Credit: Oxygen Film

What you need to know

'Your Name Engraved Herein' has catapulted Edward Chen and Tseng Jing-hua to a new level of fame, but this also may be a missed opportunity for gay representation in Taiwanese film.

This year’s blockbuster Your Name Engraved Herein was celebrated for yet another achievement recently by becoming the first LGBTQ-themed movie screened in Taiwan to gross NT$100 million at the box office. This victory is not just one for the cast and crew of the movie but one shared by Taiwan’s LGBTQ community who can finally see themselves represented in a nuanced and authentic way in a popular movie. The film’s significance to the LGBTQ community raises the question of whether it matters that the two actors playing the gay, leading roles are straight.

This contentious issue has long been a gray area for actors, screenwriters, and creators alike. In theory, any actor should be able to play any role. The ability to tap into and portray another’s experience is the basis of acting — and success at doing so proof of one’s acting chops. In the case of Your Name or any LGBTQ-themed movie, an actor’s sexual orientation should be a non-issue. After all, the whole argument for same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, and sexual orientation equality is that we are all equal regardless of our sexuality.

As anyone who has been around long enough will know, there is no one way of being or looking gay. Sexual orientation is a spectrum, and so is gender expression, meaning that one can be gay and extremely masculine, feminine, or anything in between. For these reasons, it is certainly possible for a straight actor to authentically play a gay character, or a gay actor a straight character.

In a movie industry like Taiwan’s where there are few openly gay actors, it is understandable and almost expected that two straight actors, Edward Chen and Tseng Jing-hua, ultimately took on the leading roles in Your Name. (Both actors have dated women and talked in interviews about what they look for in a girlfriend.)

Photo Credit: Oxygen Film
Tseng Jing-hua (above) with Edward Chen in Your Name Engraved Herein.

Nonetheless, their performance in the movie as a gay couple was convincing, even evocative. The intimate shower scene or the emotional fight in Penghu did not feel contrived or forced. For the sake of the story, the casting team likely chose Chen and Tseng because they believed these two could bring the characters of A-Han and Birdy to life. And, by the account of many critics, they did. The film’s popular and critical acclaim is a testament to both actors’ ability to authentically portray the characters, their desires, and struggles.

Your Name has catapulted Chen and Tseng, up-and-coming actors in the industry, to a new level of fame. Once the movie begins streaming on Netflix on December 23, they will appear on the at-home screens of many households globally. One cannot help but wonder how gay actors could have benefited from playing such nuanced leading roles. The casting of Chen and Tseng reveals that the team behind the movie likely intended to promote new talents in the industry. If the team had held open casting calls encouraging those who identify as gay to audition, could Your Name have discovered new LGBTQ talents who would go on to become household names with the success of the movie? 

A deeper look at the film industry reveals why we need to afford openly gay actors more opportunities. Even as LGBTQ-friendly as Taiwan is relative to its neighbors in Asia, many celebrities still find it safer, for their careers, to stay in the closet. The prominent talk show host Kevin Tsai, who became the first openly gay male celebrity in Taiwan when he came out in 2001, said in 2015 that he usually advises gay celebrities against coming out. He said that coming out as someone in the industry is lonely and difficult to bear because of the stigma and denigration gay people still face in the country. Like in Hollywood, gay celebrities in Taiwan are scared of losing their fans and livelihood if they come out. Once a celebrity is out of the closet, the industry is likely to label them and typecast them only for one-dimensional, stereotypical gay roles — if they offer them any opportunities at all.

蔡康永_Taiwanese host Tsai poses for photographers on the red carpet at the 50th Golden Horse Film Awards in Taipei
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Taiwanese talk show host Kevin Tsai poses for photographers on the red carpet at the 50th Golden Horse Film Awards in Taipei, November 23, 2013.

In the years leading up to Taiwan’s legalization of same-sex marriage, however, public opinion of the LGBTQ community has been evolving towards acceptance and embrace. Earlier this year, when Mirror Media outed Taiwanese YouTuber Huang Ting-wei, the public as well as politicians came to the internet celebrity’s defense for what was a clear violation of his privacy. In a video that Huang, better known by his YouTube moniker Wei Wei, subsequently filmed in which he came out to his mother, viewers could hear how she cared more about how he was doing than anything else. The comments the video received also reflected the public’s support of the YouTuber, regardless of his sexual orientation.

Given this and other instances of established celebrities coming out and receiving support and praise instead of backlash, wariness of discovering and promoting openly gay LGBTQ talent is misplaced.

The benefits of doing so extend beyond the careers of the individual actors. By casting gay people in roles that are complex and three-dimensional, it allows them to show their acting skills for movie executives to take notice. When a movie does well at the box office, the industry will realize that gay actors have just as much mainstream appeal as their straight counterparts. This realization would make film executives think twice before typecasting or shunning gay actors in the future, thus benefitting both existing and aspiring gay actors.

Straight actors should absolutely be able to play gay characters. But with limited opportunities for their gay peers, straight actors, as well as directors, casting agents, and those working on on-screen projects, should also consider giving gay actors the chance to tell their own stories and shine.

It is apparent to anyone watching Your Name that the movie authentically portrays LGBTQ relationships. There is no question that those involved in the project support the LGBTQ community. The movie’s director Patrick Liu even came out to his mother after directing the film. This is more of a reminder, as movie studios possibly greenlight more LGBTQ projects following the success of Your Name, that representation and opportunity matter, and as allies, we should try to afford them to those who have traditionally been denied.

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Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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