Straight actor James Corden has come under furious fire for his ‘horrifically bad’ portrayal of a gay Broadway star in new Netflix movie The Prom – in the same week that the streaming site was applauded for its continued casting of transgender actor Elliot Page in the role of a cisgender woman.
But while the streaming site was applauded for that move, its decision to feature British-born star Corden, 42, who has been married to wife Julia Carey since 2012, in the role of a gay character in The Prom, which is premiering on December 4, has prompted furious backlash from film critics and social media users alike.
Corden’s performance has been slammed as ‘gross and offensive’, with viewers blasting Netflix for failing to cast a gay actor in the role.
Uproar: Straight actor James Corden has been slammed for his ‘gross, offensive’ portrayal of a gay man in upcoming Netflix movie The Prom, which also stars Meryl Streep
Upset: Netflix viewers have slammed the decision to cast Corden, 42, who married wife Julia Carey in 2012, in the role of a gay man, instead of featuring a gay actor
Contrast: The outrage comes just as Netflix was praised for announcing that transgender star Elliot Page will continue to play the role of a cisgender woman in The Umbrella Academy
In the movie, which was directed by American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy – who is himself gay – and also stars Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, Corden plays the role of Barry Glickman, struggling to maintain his Broadway career.
In the hopes of resurrecting their public image, Barry and his fellow stage star Dee Dee Allen – played by Streep – decide to travel to a small town to help a gay high school student who has been banned from attending her prom with her girlfriend.
But while the movie itself, which is based on a musical of the same name, has been widely praised, with many critics celebrating the ‘joyous’ plotline and ‘meaningful’ messaging, Corden’s role has been widely bashed.
‘The main, and huge, drawback [to The Prom] is James Corden,’ Erik Anderson, founder of awards-focused website AwardsWatch, wrote on Twitter.
‘His performance is gross and offensive, the worst gayface in a long, long time. It’s horrifically bad.’
IndieWire’s news editor Zack Sharf added: ‘The Prom shouts about tolerance but has James Corden leaning into effeminate gay stereotypes every chance he gets. Someone make it make sense?’
Another person chimed in: ‘Can James Corden please just… stop. His casting in these big Hollywood musicals is absolute nonsense, especially in The Prom. So many gay actors out there and they choose to cast him?’
‘We need to have a conversation about James Corden and whoever let him play a stereotype of a gay man that would have been offensive 25 years ago, never mind in 2020,’ one person added.
Questions: Some questioned why The Prom director Ryan Murphy – who is himself gay – made the decision to cast a straight man in the role of gay Broadway star Barry Glickman
Fury: Social media users were quick to voice their outrage over the casting choice, with many bashing Corden’s ‘stereotyped’ portrayal of a gay man
Alternatives: Several people made suggestions of gay actors who could have been cast in the role – including Tituss Burgess, who starred in Netflix show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
‘Please stop’: While the movie itself was widely praised, Corden’s role in it was viciously attacked on Twitter
One Twitter user called out the fact that Corden’s character ‘constantly jokes’ about ‘musical theatre gays’, remarking that having a straight man voice these thoughts ‘feels gross’.
‘It’s the way James Corden is playing a walking stereotype of a gay man in The Prom and the jokes constantly take a jab at musical theatre gays. Jokes that, coming from a straight man, feel gross,’ the user, named Anthony, wrote.
He added that ‘it’s literally funny’ when ‘gay people make fun of themselves’, but that it is ‘f***ing infuriating’ to watch a straight actor ‘saying stereotype jokes about gay men’.
Anthony then joined the slew of social media users pointing out how many gay stars could have been cast in the role.
Another suggested that openly-gay Broadway star Tituss Burgess – who appeared in Netflix series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – or Broadway veteran Nathan Lane would have been the perfect choice.
Interestingly, the outraged response to Corden’s performance in the movie comes at the same time as Netflix was widely applauded for its decision to keep The Umbrella Academy actor Elliot Page in the role of a cisgender woman after he came out as transgender.
On Tuesday, Elliot – who is best known for his role as Juno, when he played a pregnant teenage girl and went by the name Ellen – announced that he is transgender and that his pronouns are ‘he and they’.
Praise: In contrast, the decision to keep Elliot – pictured with wife Emma Portner in 2019 – in the role of cisgender lesbian Vanya Hargreaves was widely applauded
Speaking out: Elliot, 33, came out as transgender in an emotional statement shared to his social media accounts on Tuesday
He was universally embraced by Hollywood; stars like Ellen DeGeneres congratulated him and Netflix announced that he would stay on in his role as Vanya Hargreaves, a cisgender lesbian, in The Umbrella Academy, which he has already held for two seasons.
Shortly after Netflix made the announcement, GLAAD’s Director of Transgender Media, Nick Adams, hit back at criticism of the decision, saying in a statement: ‘Trans actors can and do play both trans and cisgender characters. I’m sure Elliot will continue to be brilliant in Umbrella Academy and many different types of roles in the future.’
Some Netflix viewers also praised the move, with one Twitter user writing: ‘Honestly I want more of this. Actors and actresses playing the roles of opposite genders. If they can play it well give it to them. It would helps to break gender norms and patriarchy in Hollywood.’
Another said of the decision: ‘Extremely cool, Netflix.’
Many argued with those who criticized the decision, saying that it is OK for a trans person to play a cis person but not the other way around because transgender actors ordinarily lose out on roles, whereas cis people do not.
‘There have been maybe 225 trans TV or movie characters ever, world-wide & almost all of them have been played by cisgender people. Pretty sure nobody’s going to suffer if a few trans actors play theoretically cisgender characters,’ one person said.
Celebration: Many Netflix viewers celebrated the decision not to re-cast the role of Vanya in light of Elliot’s announcement, describing the move as ‘very cool’
‘So glad to see Netflix recognizing this change and updating his name. Good on you,’ another said.
However, not everyone was in support of the decision, with several confused fans of the Netflix show branding it ‘political correctness gone crazy’ that Elliot will continue to play a female role when it is considered unfair for cisgender actors to play transgender characters.
They asked whether it was hypocritical to have a transgender person playing a cisgender role when the reverse has been deemed to be unfair and discriminatory against trans actors.
‘I’m all for letting him be happy but it’s another example of political correctness gone crazy. We now have a straight man playing a gay woman on TV and yet people cry out for representation and non-bias,’ one Twitter user said.
‘You genuinely believe if a non trans person played a trans character, there wouldn’t be an issue?’
Another said: ‘I do feel it uncomfortable that in a live action fashion, a now man is playing a woman. That’s just how I feel… I’m a massive fan of hers or his I don’t know what I am supposed to say.’
Others were simply confused about the casting choice.
‘Vanya isn’t trans though, is she?’ one asked.
Debate: However some were left confused by the choice, with one person asking, ‘You genuinely believe if a non trans person played a trans character, there wouldn’t be an issue?’
Some suggested the writers of the show might ‘make her trans’ to better align with Elliot’s personal announcement.
Corden is by no means the first straight actor to star in the role of a gay or transgender person – however there has been increasing upset over the past few years about casting straight, cisgender stars in LGBTQ roles.
In 2018, Scarlett Johansson withdrew from playing a transgender role in the movie Rub & Tug after backlash over her playing it when she was cisgender.
Halle Berry was also considering playing a transgender man but backed away from it after receiving criticism for it.
She then vowed to be an ‘ally’ to the LGBTQ community.
In his announcement on Tuesday, Elliot said: ‘Hi friends, I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot.
‘I feel lucky to be writing this. To have arrived at this place in my life.’
Elliot, who received an Oscar nod for his role in the hit 2008 movie Juno, asking his followers and fans for ‘patience’, admitting that he is ‘scared’ of the ‘invasiveness, the hate, the jokes, and of the violence’ that he may face moving forward.
‘My job is real, but it is also fragile,’ the actor said, adding: ‘The truth is, despite feeling profoundly happy right now and knowing how much privilege I carry, I am also scared.’
Backtrack: Halle Berry and Scarlett Johansson have both previously stepped back from transgender roles after being lambasted for considering them
Acclaim: Corden is not the first straight star to play a gay or trans role on screen; Darren Criss has portrayed two gay men, in TV hit Glee (pictured) and The Assassination Of Gianni Versace
Celebrated: Sean Penn earned wide praise for his performance in Gus van Sant’s 2008 biopic Milk, in which he played the part of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay public official
Many straight actors have previously received wide praise for their portrayal of gay and transgender characters, however – including the likes of Jake Gyllenhall, Heath Ledger, Tom Hanks, Cate Blanchett, and Julianne Moore.
Gyllenhaal and Ledger were widely praised for their portrayal of gay cowboys in the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain, with many critics applauding their emotional and believable performances, which earned them both nods at the 2006 Academy Awards.
Blanchett and fellow actress Rooney Mara also received critical acclaim for their portrayal of a gay couple in the movie Carol, which premiered in 2015.
Meanwhile, Hilary Swank won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2000 for her portrayal of transgender teen Brandon Teena in the 1999 movie Boys Don’t Cry.
The film, which was based on the real-life story of Brandon, a trans man who was brutally beaten and gang-raped, before later being shot by his attackers, was lauded by critics, who focused their praise particularly on Swank’s performance.
Hanks’ turn as a gay lawyer in the 1993 movie Philadelphia earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor – and critical applause for his ‘moving’ portrayal of Andrew Beckett, a senior law associate hiding both his homosexuality and his AIDS diagnosis from the world.
In the movie, which also stars Denzel Washington, Hanks’ character attempts to sue his law firm over allegations that he was fired because of his sexuality and his status as an AIDS patient. Beckett is eventually awarded $5 million in damages and back pay by a court – but he passes away soon after the trial concludes.
Director Murphy has also previously cast straight men in gay roles – including Darren Criss, who played the role of gay singer Blaine Anderson in his hit TV show Glee from 2010 until 2015.
The actor reunited with Murphy in 2017 to portray gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
His performance in the second season of the anthology seres received critical acclaim from critics and also earned him an Emmy.
In 2018, he told Bustle, he won’t play gay characters any longer, saying: ‘I want to make sure I won’t be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role.’
Criss married writer and producer Mia Swier in 2019 after nearly a decade together.
Veteran actor Sean Penn also earned wide praise for his performance in Gus van Sant’s 2008 biopic Milk, in which he played the part of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay public official.
The critically acclaimed performance earned the actor his second Oscar.
Penn, who was married previously to Madonna and Robin Wright, tied the knot with Leila George, the 28-year-old daughter of Vincent D’Onofrio, earlier this year amid the pandemic.