We’ve long known that Netflix is a home for inclusive content, especially LGBTQ TV series and films that wouldn’t normally be made by Hollywood studios. Ryan Murphy first put queer characters on the map through Glee, but since the openly gay producer powerhouse joined Netflix as a content creator, he has been a major force in making shows for Netflix that feature strong LGBTQ characters or themes, such as Pose and Hollywood. Now, Netflix has combined its financial power with Murphy’s talent to bring us The Prom, a star-studded musical centred around a lesbian girl who just wants to attend her high school prom with her girlfriend.
The Prom is a screen remake of the Broadway musical of the same name. Its cast includes Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key and newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman.
The musical is about four Broadway performers who travel to a rural town to help a lesbian student whose school bans her from attending her prom. Their star power has waned, but the four egoistic celebrities think they can drum up some positive publicity for themselves through their activism. As they bump up against the small-town community, they grow to become more selfless as they fight for inclusivity.
Ahead of The Prom’s release on Netflix last week, Yahoo Lifestyle SEA joined a media roundtable interview with three of the cast members, James Corden, Andrew Rannells and Jo Ellen Pellman. The stars shared their thoughts about whether the power of celebrity and entertainment can bring about social change and progress.
Corden, who you might know as the Carpool Karaoke host, was in the Cats musical film last year too, so he’s no stranger to singing in a movie. He plays Barry Glickman, a gay Broadway singer who deals with his own insecurity and homophobic parents.
For Asian LGBTQ people who are often subject to stigma and discrimination in conservative societies, Corden had words of encouragement, saying that such films like The Prom showed them that they were not alone, and that their allies are out here telling their stories. “You are absolutely loved, cherished, and accepted – more than you will ever know – by every single person that's involved with this film. That's a certainty.”
Corden added, “The greatest thing that could happen is, in 20 years time, you wouldn't be able to make a film like The Prom, because people would go, well, why would you tell that story? Everybody is accepting of everybody's sexuality and who they are and who they want to be. That would be the dream scenario.”
Asked whether he thinks celebrities have great power to change society, he said, “I do think they can make a difference. Somehow, I do think that if you are authentic and true in the voices that you're trying to lift up, you can do that.”
Pellman, who is queer and out herself, plays Emma Nolan, the lesbian girl whose prom crisis becomes a national controversy. She believes that entertainment can promote positive messages to audiences. “For me personally, I do think that my political beliefs and my artistic beliefs and my artistic integrity are forever entwined. That's why I'm so fortunate that my feature film debut gets to be a story with such a brilliant message. And I can only hope that I can continue to work with icons that also have these same kinds of convictions, on projects that really speak to me and that have a message. That's honestly all I could ever want as an actor.”
Longtime Murphy collaborator, Rannells, is a gay actor who has worked with Ryan Murphy in The New Normal, Glee, and The Boys In The Band. He plays Trent Oliver, a minor actor hoping to make his mark on Broadway. Rannells is glad that films like The Prom provide representation for LGBTQ people. “It was very exciting to get to film that actual prom sequence, because we had this great group of dancers and background actors, a lot of whom were queer youth that Ryan had invited to come and join that scene. It really did feel like a celebratory experience.”
“The joy that was in that room when we were filming was palpable,” said Rannells. “Hopefully that comes across in the film. It was certainly the prom that I wish I had had.”