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‘Saltburn’ teaser reignites debate about ‘genuine’ queer representation


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‘Saltburn’ teaser reignites debate about ‘genuine’ queer representation

'Saltburn' teaser reignites debate about 'genuine' queer representation

The first teaser for Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn dropped yesterday and is already the talk of the town – especially for its supposed queer representation.

The film, set in the mid-2010s follows Barry Keoghan’s young Oliver, a student at Oxford from a modest background who falls in with a far more upmarket crowd during his studies, including the dishy Felix (Jacob Elordi) – who invites him to spend the summer with his offbeat family at their sprawling countryside estate. 

The film’s teaser insinuates that there will be some romance between Keoghan and Elordi’s characters but further plot details are scant, leading some to wonder whether it’s genuine representation or just marketing. 

This year we have seen a ton of positive representation for queer communities, including Heartstopper, and the rom-com film Red, White, And Royal Blue – but some fans debate whether it is genuine representation if the actors portraying LGBTQ+ characters do not identify that way themselves. Keoghan and Elordi have never commented on their respective sexualities in their personal lives, but both have publicly dated women.

This discourse around whether real people can ‘queerbait’ for the sake of promoting their work has been going on for a while but it heated up last year when Heartstopper star Kit Connor was forcibly outed as bisexual on the internet following the mass popularity of the show. Connor’s beloved character, Nick Nelson, identifies as bisexual on the show — and after some fans accused him of ‘queerbaiting’, it forced the actor to come out as bisexual himself before he felt he was ready.

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The situation created an ongoing dialogue about the true meaning of the term “queerbaiting”, which means leading people or an audience to believe one is queer when they are actually not. Many argue that this is only possible in the realm of fiction, as sexuality is far more complex in real people. 

Due to the ongoing joint SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike, neither Elordi nor Keoghan have commented on their roles in Saltburn. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is the only entertainment union that has reached an agreement with the AMTP and major studios, thus only directors can speak to the press at this time.

Elsewhere, some have no doubts about Elordi’s performance, as he portrayed the bi-curious Nate Jacobs on Euphoria. The film’s extravagant old English imagery is garnering comparisons to Brideshead Revisited and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Viewers have previously found that both novel-to-film adaptations hint at gay characters, but never explicitly reveal their identities. Some hope that Saltburn will allow for more obvious gay representation.

Regardless, this debate around whether non-LGBTQ+ actors playing queer characters actually causes more harm as it takes away jobs from IRL queer actors seems to be never-ending. In India too, as Sushmita Sen’s Taali, on the life of transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant receives heaps of praise from critics, some cannot help but wonder whether an actual transgender actor who understands the struggles would have better portrayed the role.

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