Jared Leto, actor and frontman of rock band, 30 Seconds to Mars, recently received criticism for his portrayal of a transgender woman in the film Dallas Buyers Club. While doing a Q&A at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuosos Awards, a woman in the audience spoke up to Leto and said that he didn’t deserve an award for playing a transgender role because straight people always play transgender roles. Leto fired back stating, “Because I’m a man, I don’t deserve to play that part? So you would hold a role against someone who happened to be gay or lesbian – they can’t play a straight part?”
The audience member believed that only transgender actors should have the right to play those roles and that other actors of the opposite sex should stick to playing their own gender. Although the exchange was brief, Leto offered to continue the conversation backstage after the Q&A where he was able to discuss the topic more in detail for several minutes. The conversation between Leto and the woman was said to be peaceful.
At the Santa Barbara film festival, Leto was awarded with the Virtuoso award for his breakthrough character in Dallas Buyers Club. He won a Golden Globe earlier this year for Best Supporting Actor for the film, as well as receiving an Oscar nomination.
This is not the first time that someone has spoken out publicly about Leto’s controversial role and how it affects transgender actors, as an article was recently written on Salon.com about how the role is a disservice to transgender actors by making them more invisible when they are played by big-named stars. The writer, Chelsea Hawkins, argues that it is difficult for most people to name a transgender actor in Hollywood and that they should be offered their own success in the entertainment industry.
In The Dallas Buyers Club, Leto plays a transgender woman, Rayon, opposite of Matthew McConaughey, with both characters suffering from AIDS during the epidemic in the mid-1980s. The plot focuses on the two characters hopes of smuggling AZT drugs from overseas in an attempt to alleviate the disorder.
Leto has starred in over 20 films including blockbuster hits such as, Panic Room, Girl, Interrupted, Fight Club and American Psycho. Leto continues to play in his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, with his brother, Shannon Leto, as well as appear on television and in film.