Idris Elba defends Disney casting straight actor Jack Whitehall in gay role

Idris Elba has defended the casting of Jack Whitehall as Disney’s first gay character.

Voices within the LGBT+ community had voiced concern with the casting of straight actor Jack Whitehall as Disney’s first ever gay character in upcoming movie The Jungle Cruise.

Critics have suggested a long string of LGBT+ actors who would be better suited for the part than Whitehall, the privately-educated son of a producer and talent agent.

Actor Jack Whitehall (Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for BFI)

The backlash is similar to that against Armie Hammer’s casting in Call Me By Your Name.

But actor Idris Elba has weighed into the row this week – in support of Whitehall’s casting.

Speaking to TimeOut London about the dispute, he said: “Artistic licence is artistic licence. If an actor has the attributes to do something, they should be able to do it. They’re acting.

“You don’t necessarily have to be gay to play a gay character. Though you do have to be black to play a black character.”

The actor, who is frequently rumoured as a future James Bond, conspicuously referenced the franchise.

Elba continued: “It’s like the debate about James Bond. It’s nonsense. It’s a fictional character. I’ve got mad respect for how Ian Fleming described him.

“He said he was a white guy, looked like this… That’s how it was written. But then there’s interpretation.

“If we were always bound by the confines that something has to be [one way], people would never have expanded on things and come up with some of the most genius ideas.”

Idris Elba (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty)

Recent polling found that despite concerns within the community, the public at large doesn’t object to Whitehall’s casting.

YouGov poll in the UK looked into the debate, asking: “A heterosexual actor has been cast as the first major gay character in a Disney film. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?”

The polling found that 70 percent of people believe “it is acceptable for a heterosexual actor to be cast in this part,” while just 12 percent believe “A gay actor should have been cast in this part.”

18 percent answered “Don’t Know,” possibly inflated because the question did not provide for people who don’t think the part is acceptable.

Whitehall is reportedly set to play the character in The Jungle Cruise, an upcoming Disney movie starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Emily Blunt.

The film, which is based on the Disneyland ride of the same name, stars Johnson as a boat captain taking two siblings on a mission into the jungle to find a magic tree.

According to reports, Whitehall is set to play the brother of Blunt’s character – playing a “hugely effete, very camp and very funny” figure who “makes clear he has no interest in women.”

Jack Whitehall (Ian Gavan/Getty)

The comedian said: “I’m so honoured to be part of this epic adventure.

“Filming is underway and I am having the time of my life with my amazing co stars.

“It’s so cool to be part of something of this scale and also as possibly one of the biggest Disney nerds on the planet so exciting to be working on a project with this much history.”

“I can’t wait for you to see this film…”

If true, it will be Disney’s first foray into LGBT+ characters in film, having relaxed its long-standing policy that prevented LGBT+ content.

Several shows on the Disney Channel have had LGBT+ characters since the abrupt change in 2014, but it has taken longer for Disney’s film output to show any signs of becoming LGBT+ inclusive.