James Corden's performance in 'The Prom' condemned as homophobic: 'It's not brave'

Christi Carras
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Meryl Streep, center left, and James Corden star in "The Prom."

"Aggressively flamboyant," "homophobic," "stereotypical" and "grossly inappropriate" are a few words people have used to describe James Corden's performance in Netflix's "The Prom."

The "Late Late Show" host, who identifies as straight, stars in the Ryan Murphy vehicle as Barry Glickman, a gay Broadway actor who teams up with others in the theater industry to help a teenager take her girlfriend to their high school prom.

Corden's controversial casting in the movie musical, which premiered Dec. 4 on Netflix, has reignited a long-running debate as to whether straight and cisgender performers should be hired to play LGBTQ+ characters — especially because the comedian's portrayal has been widely panned as offensive to the community it represents.

"So ... we couldn't get a gay man to play James Corden's role in #TheProm ?" tweeted James Fishon. "They were all too busy? Do we still think it's kosher to have non-LGBTQIA people playing aggressively flamboyant, stereotypical gay characters? Does anyone ever learn?"

"The unrepentant violence that is James Corden doing a homophobic portrayal of a gay man in a musical about gay rights," wrote comedian Phillip Henry.

Representatives for Corden, Murphy and Netflix did not respond Monday to The Times' requests for comment.

Several on Twitter offered alternative casting choices for the lead role of  Glickman, including Nathan Lane and Tituss Burgess, both of whom are gay and have starred in several Broadway productions. Many also lauded Andrew Rannells, a gay actor and Tony nominee, for his "Prom" turn opposite Corden as Juilliard graduate Trent Oliver.

"James corden being cast in the Prom while Tituss burgess is living and thriving is a crime to humanity. You could've had tituss, TITUSS!!!!" tweeted @Eulalia_Rosalia, along with a gif of Burgess' "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" character saying, "What white nonsense was that?" on the Netflix series.

"Why on earth would they hire James Corden ... a British, straight, TV show host that cant sing ... to play a gay American Broadway actor ... next to the amazing Andrew Rannells, who fits the role perfectly??" wrote @TheCritic_101.

In her commentary on Netflix's move to cast major Hollywood names over seasoned Broadway performers, The Times' Ashley Lee noted that the role of  Glickman was originated "to Tony-nominated acclaim by (Brooks) Ashmanskas, an out gay theater mainstay, and yet becomes 'aggressively charmless' when played by Corden." Netflix's movie version also stars Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key and Nicole Kidman.

Advocates for authentic casting argue that tapping LGBTQ actors for such roles not only leads to more respectful and accurate representation onscreen but also opens doors for performers from marginalized groups in the entertainment industry.

"#TheProm is another example of Ryan Murphy choosing to go for gasps instead of focusing on a strong subject matter," tweeted film critic Liam De Brún.

"James Corden's performance is grossly inappropriate. It's not brave playing a gay man, in fact you stole the role from a member of the LGBTQ community."