It's different for celebrities

It's different for celebrities

Having traded on his image as a red-blooded man to sell records, Ricky Martin, who came out as gay last month, said he stayed in the closet because he was told coming out would kill his career.

“I agree that his success would have been limited due to the controversy as it would take attention off his music to his sexuality. I think all personal decisions be it marriage, moving into a new home or even shopping affect a celebrity’s life. Coming out thus would have formed the core of his social interactions as well as interest amongst fans determining his future,” says Mumbai-based public relations consultant Praful Baweja.

HR professional Savita Nair says being gay seems to have more acceptance in music and entertainment, but points to the case of George Michael, whose music sales dipped after he came out. “As a rock star, it’s not really about a career, but about music and talent and money. Which is why MJ, who was weird – not queer – had the kind of career history that he had,” she says.

So what would the situation be in India? Nitin Karani, who is Editor at Large of the gay magazine Bombay Dost, says that, hypothetically speaking, if a playback singer were to come out as gay or bisexual, he believes it wouldn’t affect his career.

“The media might give it prominent coverage for a day or two, but life would be back to normal for the singer as far as his career is concerned. A playback singer in India doesn’t have much of an image to maintain in public. The same goes for directors. Their status in the top bracket would not change overnight, which actually happens when they deliver big flops at the box office,” he says.

“In the case of people who have been rumoured to be gay for some time now, the reaction would be exactly like Ricky Martin’s case — well, what took you so long to come out? Then people would move on.”

However, if an A-list actor comes out while at the top of his game, he could well see his career affected. “This would not be because of any public outcry — in fact, I think their fans would still support them and evidence of this is the fact that there have always been rumours about some of the top stars of this generation and that of the previous, which has not affected their popularity at the box office,” Karani says.

“But they might find that they are not being offered lead roles anymore simply because the industry itself might punish them. Producers and distributors tend to play safe and like to enforce a ‘don’t tell’ policy for purely business reasons – they would assume the out gay star is not bankable anymore.

I think this is also supported by the fact that Hollywood and the US media industry have many out LGBT directors, character actors, chat show hosts and so on, but not a single major star who is out despite persistent rumours about some of them.”
The exception, he says, is Angelina Jolie who came out as bisexual, not as lesbian, after two heterosexual marriages, and went on to have a heterosexual relationship, which he says, “all kind of makes her bisexuality ‘unimportant’ for Hollywood.”

But coming out can also revitalise a flagging career. Much of the debate following Martin’s coming out centred around the fact that he is writing an autobiography, so telling the world he is “a fortunate homosexual man [who is] very blessed to be who I am” will certainly help book sales, goes the thinking.

“Coming out affects his PR machinery,” says Baweja. “Martin would benefit from buzz of him being a gay icon  and maybe resurrect his dying music career with attention of gay support groups and businesses focusing on the pink dollar.”

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