Surely the gayest out cast ever to be assembled in one room for a Netflix movie is in “The Boys in the Band,” Joe Mantello’s new vision of the iconoclastic Mart Crowley play about the tortured lives of gay men in 1960s New York. While reviews have been strong — including from IndieWire — not all critics have been kind to the film. That includes TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde, who took issue with the casting of Latinx actor Robin de Jesús in the role of Emory, the flamboyant interior director played by white actor Cliff Gorman in the original 1968 Off-Broadway play and in William Friedkin’s 1970 movie version.
In a guest column also for TheWrap, the film’s co-writer and producer Ned Martel fired back at Duralde’s criticisms, including the charge that Emory’s “racist put-downs” of his friend Bernard, who is Black, lose their charge when coming from a Latinx actor and instead exonerate the white racism of the period. To wit, Robin de Jesús also played Emory in the 2018 stage revival of “Boys,” directed by Mantello, and earned a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play.
Martel wrote, “Mr. Duralde insists that the casting of Robin de Jesús, in the role of Emory, was an act of ‘cheating.’ I insist on accuracy: Mart never declared which race this character is, was or needed to be. As a producer, Mart also approved of Robin’s hiring (and delighted in his performance), so I reject Mr. Duralde’s claim that we rolled past any restriction when we made Emory a Latinx character. Literally: Where is it written?”
In his original review, Duralde said, “While de Jesus offers some of the best acting work in the film, it’s a bit of a cop-out changing Emory from a white character to a Latinx one, as it diminishes the character’s stream of jokey racist put-downs to Bernard [who is Black], and Bernard’s eventual explanation as to why he allows it. If filmmakers are going to re-create 1968, it’s cheating to retroactively let white characters’ racist behavior off the hook.”
It should be noted that Duralde is both Latino and gay, and a programmer for LA OutFest.
Martel responded, “I do find hate speech to be hate speech, no matter who expresses it. I also know that a Latinx person diminishing a Black person, in public, is racist, then as now,” adding, “Let’s examine Mr. Duralde’s disinterest in diversifying our ensemble. How is his stance not dangerous, in our cultural quest to see more of America in our greatest texts, to include more perspectives that let us see ourselves in new ways? How might other risk-takers feel warned that such a casting is crossing a line, violating terms, courting failure? How does Mr. Duralde advance progress when falsely and inaccurately ascribing bad motives to how we reimagined Emory, when it ultimately gave a Latinx actor his third Tony nomination?”
However, Martel added, “Our interpretation is open to robust criticism from any viewer in this new global, digital audience,” but he denied any conspiracy or ill intent behind Robin de Jesús’ casting. “The Boys in the Band” is currently streaming on Netflix.