British actor-singer Harry Styles attends the 'My Policeman' premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival

Styles sparks sexuality debate at ‘My Cop’ Toronto premiere

British actor and singer Harry Styles at the premiere of “My Cop” at the Toronto International Film Festival – Copyright WanNaiks Gallery/AFP Handout

Andrew MARSHAL

Pop superstar Harry Styles has opened up about the complexities of sexuality and said he finds the closeted gay man he plays in the 1950s drama My Cop depressing as his latest film premiered Sunday at the Toronto Film Festival.

My Cop is one of several LGBTQ-themed films that the organizers have named Breakthrough Year at North America’s biggest film festival, along with Billy Eichner’s romantic comedy Bros and the highly acclaimed gay war drama Inspection. ”

But the world premiere of Styles’ latest film came as the British actor-singer faced accusations from some high-profile critics of appropriating queer culture, including his gender-nonconforming fashion choices, while maintaining ambiguity about his sexuality.

In the film, he plays Tom, a police officer caught in a forbidden love triangle with a young woman and a polite art gallery curator in 1950s Britain, when homosexuality was illegal.

“I think they have so many nuances and so many complexities that people have in real life, related to sexuality and finding themselves,” Stiles said at a press conference in Toronto.

The film, which also stars Emma Corrin and Rupert Everett, jumps between 1957 and 1999, depicting the trio at two different stages in their lives as British attitudes and homosexual laws changed radically.

It tells the aftermath of all three Toms being forced to hide their love for handler Patrick.

“I think Tom’s version of acceptance is pretty depressing – I think he accepts that he will deny that part of himself for a very long time,” Stiles said.

He noted, “For me, the reason this story is so devastating is because, ultimately, for me, the whole story is about wasted time.

“I think wasted time is the most devastating because it’s the only thing we can’t control. It’s the only thing we can’t return.”

– LGBTQ Actors –

Styles has been praised by some for normalizing gender fluidity and speaking out for LGBTQ rights, and has also been known to stir up rumors about his sexuality by telling the audience at a concert, “We’re all a little gay, aren’t we?”

But his stance drew criticism from prominent LGBTQ figures such as actor and singer Billy Porter, who accused Styles of “doing it just because it’s supposed to be done.”

The topic of actors who do not openly identify as LGTBQ playing gay roles was raised and even ridiculed earlier at the Toronto Film Festival with the world premiere of Bros, the first gay romcom from a major Hollywood studio.

“The entire cast is openly LGBT actors, even starring in a film, which is rare,” Eichner told AFP on the red carpet.

The film itself contains several jokes about supposedly Oscar-hungry straight actors playing gay roles in films such as Brokeback Mountain and last year’s The Power of the Dog starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

“I mean, it’s absurd and kind of annoying that it took so long that we didn’t have any more of these films; there should be a lot of those films by now,” Eichner said of The Brothers.

“But still, I’m very grateful that Universal finally decided it was time.”

Director Nicholas Stoller added that he hopes the film, about a New York City gay podcaster who fears commitment and is reluctant to seek love, will resonate “not just with the LGBT audience, but with the general public.”

– ‘I see you’ –

Ahead of the festival, the event’s CEO Cameron Bailey told AFP that this year saw a “breakthrough” for films filled with “LGBTQ stories, told perhaps in places where they haven’t been before, and in a much more mainstream way.”

“The biggest companies that make films have often been the most cautious, shall we say, when it comes to this kind of representation,” he said.

“That seems to be changing.

Among them was Inspection, from writer-director Elegance Bratton, which drew on his own experience as a black gay man who joined the US Marine Corps to escape homelessness and was forced to endure violent homophobia from time to time.

Jeremy Pope, who plays Bratton Ellis’s openly gay alter ego, told Deadline that his performance came from “truth and honesty.”

“It became something very beautiful and – for me and for him – very healing to be able to look across the room at my writer/director who was black and weird and say, ‘I see you.

TIFF will run until September 18th.

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