Hollywood still has a long way to go in terms of LGBTQ+ representation, but within the past year, it does feel like there have been more earnest stories at the forefront about queer women than usual. Between Happiest Season breaking a Hulu record amidst the holidays, Netflix’s Haunting of Bly Manor breaking our hearts with Dani and Jamie’s tragic love story and Oscar hopeful Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom turning the spotlight on a Black queer icon of the ‘20s. Ryan Murphy’s The Prom also allowed Hamilton actor Ariana DeBose to touch on her experiences coming out with Alyssa Greene.
Between the glimmer and huge music numbers featuring the likes of Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, The Prom tells the story of two women in high school who are secretly dating and planning to go to the school dance together. When their PTA opposes it and cancels the event, a crew of Broadway drop-outs rush to “save” them. Ariana DeBose talked to Collider about what was important to her when cultivating such an important relationship in The Prom with a supporting role. In her words:
And then again, there’s a coming out moment. It’s the coming out moment. You have to land that. And there’s several layers on it - she’s a girl of color coming out to a Black mama and that’s tough. If I didn’t have the life experience I have, I wouldn’t have been able to endow that with half of what it holds.
Ariana DeBose could identify with some of the experiences being showcased in The Prom considering she grew up in a small town in North Carolina, with her mom holding a job as a public educator. DeBose has thankfully described her own experiences as a biracial queer woman while working among the Broadway community to be “very welcoming and accepting.” The actress continued to talk about The Prom:
I think ultimately, I don’t know that someone could have played this role on screen without having these very specific experiences or understanding that life experience. I do applaud Ryan for making the choice to hire young women who identify somewhere on the rainbow spectrum, because if you don’t walk that walk, you cannot talk the talk in this case, this particular case. Being a women of color specifically, it’s a complicated order living in 2020 so having the material even though it’s not a huge amount of material, there was enough space to go through that, to go through the emotions of that and if she had less material than what is actually there, I don’t know if we would have been successful.
Both Ariana DeBose and her co-star Jo Ellen Pellman identify as queer, making The Prom’s representation of a female relationship more progressive than prior explorations of the subject. DeBose believes women with their experiences were vital to making The Prom a musical with valid representation. Although DeBose’s character doesn’t have as much screen time as the film’s bigger stars, she certainly works with it.
There has, however, been criticism in terms of the casting of James Corden as a gay Broadway actor in The Prom. His performance has been slammed as homophobic and offensive, and targets some stereotypical displays of gay men. It’s strange to see Ryan Murphy cast Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose for the female relationship, and then contradict himself in regards to James Corden’s character.
Ariana DeBose is likely best known for playing The Bullet in Hamilton, a character who was showcased in Disney+’s Hamilton. She will also be playing Maria in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story coming December 10, 2021.