Pop superstar Harry Styles spoke on Sunday at the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) about the complexities of sexuality and said of his character in the 1950s drama “My Policeman,” a closeted gay man. , which he found depressing.
“My Policeman” is one of many LGBTIQ+-themed films for which organizers have hailed this as a “breakthrough” year at North America’s largest film festival. Other films include Billy Eichner’s romantic comedy “Bros” and “The Inspection,” a critically acclaimed military drama.
However, the world premiere for Styles comes amid well-known criticism of the British actor, who is accused of appropriating queer culture while keeping his own sexuality ambiguous. In the film he plays Tom, a policeman caught in a forbidden love triangle with a young girl and an art curator in 1950s Britain, when it was illegal to be gay.
“I think there’s a lot of nuance to them, and a lot of complexity for people in real life around sexuality and finding themselves,” Styles said at a news conference in Toronto. The film, co-starring Emma Corrin and Rupert Everett, jumps between 1957 and 1999, when the trio find themselves in another phase of their lives and the British attitude and laws have radically changed.
“I think the acceptance version of Tom is a very depressing one. I think he accepts that he’s going to deny that part of him for a long time,” Styles recounted. “I think wasting time is the most devastating thing, because it’s the one thing we can’t control. It is what we can never get back,” he added.
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Styles has been recognized by some for normalizing gender fluidity and championing LGBTIQ+ rights, fueling speculation about his sexuality after saying during a concert, “We’re all a little bit gay, aren’t we?” However, his position has been criticized by prominent LGBTIQ+ figures such as actor Billy Porter, who accused Styles of “just doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”
The issue of actors not openly identifying as LGBTIQ+ and playing gay roles has previously been raised and even ridiculed at the Toronto film festival with the world premiere of “Bros,” billed as the first gay romantic comedy from a major Hollywood studio.
“Everyone in the cast is an openly LGBTIQ+ actor, even in the straight roles, which is unusual,” Eichner told AFP on the red carpet. The movie even has jokes about Oscar-hungry straight actors taking on gay roles, like “Brokeback Mountain” and the recent “The Power of the Dog.” “I mean, it’s absurd and a little infuriating that it’s taken so long, that we don’t get more of these movies (…) But anyway, I’m very grateful to Universal for finally deciding that it was time.”
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Ahead of the festival, the event’s chief executive, Cameron Bailey, told AFP that there has been “a big push this year” for LGBTIQ+-themed films. “The biggest companies that make movies have often been cautious, if you will, when it comes to this kind of representation. That seems to be changing,” he opined.
Also among the films is “The Inspection,” which tells of the experiences of its own director and screenwriter, Elegance Bratton, a gay black man who joins the United States Marines to escape a life of homelessness and faces a even brutal homophobia.
Jeremy Pope, who plays Bratton’s alter ego Ellis and is openly gay, told Deadline that his performance came “from a place of truth and honesty.” “It ended up being something very beautiful and – for him and for me – very healing, to be able to look with certainty at my writer and director, a black and queer man, and say ‘I see you'”. The TIFF runs until September 18.