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Feb 6, 2012
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Justin Timberlake: Can he Break the Gay Stereotypes?

In his new movie Friends With Benefits, Justin Timberlake plays opposite Woody Harrelson in a “guy friendship.” When director Will Gluck revealed that Woody would be playing a gay man, it didn’t phase Justin.

"Stereotypes are offensive to our culture. I'm a straight male who has male friends who are gay. We don't have any problem communicating. We don't [have] any problem being two guy friends regardless of our differences in sexual orientation," Timberlake told The Advocate.

He continued: "I want to say that once we came up with the idea that Woody's character would be gay, it was really important to me that we use that as an opportunity to break anything that is a stereotype."

Are Justin’s dreams too big, or might his portrayal--both as a character inside a film and more importantly as a public personality--of a man who is not upset by being friends with a gay man actually teach others to lay their stereotypes aside.

Science reveals that Justin’s actions may help.

In an article published by the American Psychological Association, Murry Law shows that 80 percent to 90 percent of people tested hold implicit biases. These implicit beliefs are completely unknown on a conscious level. In other words, people who hold these subconscious beliefs, those who would not hire a black person or not give a gay man thrombolytic drugs in the emergency room, believe they are open minded and blind to such things as race and sexual preference.

But, researcher Patricia Devine, PhD, reveals in her latest studies that there is hope; “Implicit bias operates much like any habit. Breaking that habit requires several deliberate steps.”

1. Becoming aware of one’s implicit bias.
2. Being concerned about the consequences of the bias.
3. Learning to replace the biased response with non-prejudiced responses—ones that more closely match the values people consciously believe that they hold.

Once people take the first step, they're more likely to take the next ones, said Devine. This is because awareness of prejudiced responses leads to guilt, which leads to self-regulation to prevent future prejudice.

Maybe Justin is leading us down that deliberate path. Maybe the difference is in the level of consciousness; the movie is not an unconscious caricature. Instead, it is purposely trying to deconstruct normative views of sexuality. When Justin is accepting in a movie, doesn’t the viewer who relates to the character have to reconsider his own views, and maybe even become aware of something hidden in their own perceptions?


Murry Law, Bridget. Retraining the Biased Brain. The American Psychological Association, October 2011, Vol 42, No. 9. Web. January 30, 2012.

Fowler, Tara. Justin Timberlake: ‘Stereotypes are Offensive.’ Digital Spy. July 25, 2011. Web. January 30, 2012.