Andrew Garfield
Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Straight and cisgender actors portraying LGBTQ characters is nothing new in the film and television industries (though many would argue it’s high time this practice comes to an end). And now, Andrew Garfield is facing backlash from the LGBTQ community after comments he made about his preparation for the play Angels in America, in which he plays a gay man struggling with AIDS in the 1980s.

In speaking about the role during an NT Platform discussion earlier this week, Garfield said, “As far as I know, I am not a gay man. Maybe I’ll have an awakening later in my life, which I’m sure will be wonderful and I’ll get to explore that part of the garden, but right now I’m secluded to my area, which is wonderful as well. I adore it, but a big concern was what right do I have to play this wonderful gay role?”

He went on to say that he spoke with many of his gay friends and colleagues in order to prep for the part, and had been immersing himself in gay culture — including watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.

And therein lies the problem.

There’s a huge difference between learning about gay culture and actually living with the oppression it entails every day. Ultimately, people have responded to the fact that Garfield essentially gets to “try on” marginalization with the privilege of opting out whenever he wants.

Understandably, Twitter had a lot to say:

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and we’re aware that comments can be taken out of context. Whether or not you give Garfield the benefit of the doubt, trivializing gay culture is no small thing. Comments like these simply highlight the fact that there is much progress to be made toward a richer understanding of the LGBTQ landscape.

Let’s use this as a learning moment, and always try to remember when and how we experience privilege when we have it.