Entertainment » Movies

Controversial Gay Writer Becomes Variety NY Film Editor

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Sep 10, 2013

Variety, the so-called "bible of show business," has hired Ramin Satoodeh to oversee the film industry in New York.

This would ordinarily not be of much interest outside of those in "the industry," but Satoodeh comes with no ordinary professional pedigree. The journalist spent nine years at Newsweek and then two at its effective successor, The Daily Beast.

It was at Newsweek in 2010 when Satoodeh got his own 15 minutes of fame -- or infamy, depending on your point of view. In an article entitled "Straight Jacket," he maintained that Sean Hayes was not believable as a straight male lead romancing Kristine Chenoweth in a Broadway revival of the '60s musical "Promises, Promises."

Hayes had recently officially come out (although few of Jack's fans on "Will & Grace" had doubts). Setoodeh called Hayes' performance in the Broadway musical "wooden and insincere, like he's trying to hide something, which of course he is."

Setoodeh maintained that, once an actor was known to be gay, it was too much of a suspension of belief for an audience to accept that the actor (or actress) was romancing, let alone seducing, someone of the opposite sex. (Sedootah didn’t mention the obvious corollary, that any actor known to be straight -- Jim Carrey, Charlize Theron, Tom Hanks, Sean Penn, etc. -- wouldn’t be believable wooing someone of the same sex.)

The article caused an immediate firestorm. GLAAD objected, as did a slew of gay and non-gay personalities on both sides of the camera (or stage). No one was more fierce in their denunciation of Setoodah’s premise, however, than Hayes’ co-star.

Chenoweth wrote a spirited defense of Hayes’ performance on Newsweek.com, where she called the Newsweek piece "horrendously homophobic." At the Tony Awards two months later, Hayes planted a torrid on-stage kiss on Chenoweth. "I know what you’re thinking," Hayes told the audience. "She’s too short for me." Just for good measure, he added about Scarlett Johanssen, who won a Tony that year, "I’d take a crack at that."

Sedootah cast a wider net than just Hayes in that Newsweek article. Aside from citing Hollywood icons like Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Van Johnson and Anthony Perkins, he also criticized Jonathan Groff, who had joined the cast of hit TV show "Glee." In response, Glee’s creator, Ryan Murphy, called for a boycott of Newsweek.

If he had, no one would probably have noticed.

By the time Sedootah wrote his hit piece in 2010, Newsweek was already in its death throes. In 2010, the newsweekly, which for decades vied with Time for supremacy on the nation’s newsstands and in its dentists’ offices, was sold by its longtime corporate parent, the Washington Post Company, to an elderly businessman for $1 and assumption of debt.

The next nail in the coffin was the takeover by new-media mogul Barry Diller, who merged operations with the far more successful online startup The Daily Beast. Not too long after, Diller said taking over Newsweek was one of the biggest mistakes he had ever made in business.

In 2012, Newsweek ceased publication. Sedootah’s article was indicative of the kind of sensationalism its last editor, Tina Brown, brought to the table in search of buzz. One cover story entitled "Obama: The First Gay President" (with a rainbow halo), was followed by a takedown by a right-wing academic, Niall Ferguson. The cover photo of Michele Bachmann was considered so demeaning that even the National Organization for Women came to the defense of the Minnesota congresswoman.

In its brief press release announcing Sedootah’s appointment, Variety not only doesn’t take note of their new New York editor’s most notorious moment in the sun, but actually cites it with pride. "His 2010 theater review of Sean Hayes in "Promises Promises" went viral, sparking a major debate about gay actors in Hollywood and eliciting responses from such high profile players as Ryan Murphy, Aaron Sorkin and Kristin Chenoweth."

Variety itself is in the unenviable position of possibly going the way of Sedootah’s previous employer. Founded in 1905, it long ruled the entertainment industry on both coasts and all points in between. Headlines like "Wall Street lays an egg" (about the 1929 stock market crash) and slang like "Stix nix hix pix" (about rural audiences rejecting rural-themed films) became legendary. Variety coined such now-familiar terms as "sitcom," "sex appeal" and "striptease."

In 2012, owner Reed Business Information put Variety on the market. The main competitor, the Hollywood Reporter, has been stealing the paper’s readership and advertising in recent years. The paper’s fate is currently up in the air.

Thus far, the announcement of Sedootah’s appointment has pretty much flown under the radar of organizations and individuals critical of his "Straight Jacket" article. But it’s reasonable to assume that Sedootah’s reporting on all matters gay will be scrutinized more than any other beat reporter.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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