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Film and TV

The Prom’s Ariana DeBose used ‘all the pressures’ of growing up queer to tell a lesbian love story the right way

Matilda Davies December 11, 2020
Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose hugging

Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose play a lesbian couple. (Netflix)

Ariana DeBose wanted The Prom to tell the story of “young, beautiful brown girls who identify as queer” the right way.

DeBose stars in the new Ryan Murphy musical as a closeted high school student who is banned from attending prom with her girlfriend, prompting a group of has-been Broadway stars to descend on their town to do something about it – and to get themselves some good PR.

In a Q&A with Murphy and the cast of the new Netflix film, DeBose spoke about the responsibility she felt in telling the story of a young queer woman of colour.

“It’s not often that we get to see stories about young, beautiful brown girls who identify as queer,” she said.

“I can’t remember the last time I saw it done on a big screen. And therefore I wanted to make sure that I did it right and that I bought everything that I could to it.”

DeBose added: “When I think about young girls, especially living in today’s era, there’s so many pressures. Aside from trying to define themselves by their gender expression and the clothes they’re going to wear, there’s so many other pressures – like getting good grades in school, trying to get into college… just realising, the people I’m surrounded by, I’m attracted to them.

“There are so many different things that young people are trying to figure out today. And I wanted to make sure that I used all of those pressures into the performance.”

“I think if you can see yourself on a screen and see that your story matters, and see that your story can have a happy ending, you have a greater chance to go out in the world and find that same type of success.”

Ariana DeBose is a Tony-nominated Broadway actor (for playing the titular role in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical), and rose the fame in the ensemble cast for Hamilton.

In 2018 she spoke about her experiences as a queer woman of colour, calling the Broadway community “very welcoming and accepting”.

She said she is “surrounded by a community where I [don’t] have to be one thing”.

The Prom also stars Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman and Keegan-Michael Key.

While the film and its cast have largely been well reviewed, Corden has been criticised for his portrayal of a gay man. Erik Anderson, founder of AwardWatch, called his performance “gross and offensive”.

The Prom was a ‘full circle moment’ for Ryan Murphy.

Murphy adapted the film from a Tony-nominated Broadway show, which made history by hosting a real-life lesbian wedding on stage in 2019.

The TV supremo said he was drawn to the story of The Prom because it was about “the fight to be seen”.

“I think the reason that it spoke to me is when I was young, I wished I had a film like this to see,” he said. “I wished that I did not feel so alone in my life.”

Murphy described the film as a “full circle moment” in his career.

“I started off in 1998 writing for television, and the first thing I did, I was told I could not even have a single gay character. So I had a couple of moments making this, [realising] how much the world has changed,” he said.

More: ariana debose, Hamilton, James Corden, keegan-michael key, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Ryan Murphy, the prom

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