James Corden and Nicole Kidman in The Prom

The collapse of the performing arts industry in the wake of the pandemic is the least of its problems in some quarters. The Prom, a new Netflix film based on the Broadway hit, is the latest production to run afoul of the current casting controversies causing angst from Hollywood to Sydney.

Even before it dropped on the subscription service last weekend, the cheesy musical about LGBTIQ inclusion was subject to criticism for the decision to cast James Corden in a key role.

While Corden is currently best known as a late-night host on US television, the English actor also appeared in the TV show Gavin and Stacey and won acclaim in the hit West End play One Man, Two Guvnors.

His casting in The Prom should not have been a controversial choice given he is also an accomplished singer — as anyone who has watched his popular carpool karaoke can testify.

But James Corden is straight and the character of Barry Glickman in The Prom is gay.

“James Corden proves why straight actors should think twice before playing gay” read one headline.

“Offensive gay stereotype” said another.

It’s not about cancel culture claim some of the critics — but it comes on top of a rash of similar controversies in the artistic community of late.

Only last month Australian theatre had a similar problem when well-known television actor Hugh Sheridan was cast in the lead role in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch for the upcoming Sydney Festival.

The character, who has been described as a “complex genderqueer character”, has been played by many queer cis men in the past — including by the musical’s creator John Cameron Mitchell, who has said he does not believe Hedwig is trans.

Nevertheless, a petition was started criticising the casting of “a cisgender male as a transgender character”.

The controversy was enough to make the producers postpone the entire project. So actors of all persuasions miss a much-needed opportunity to perform at all.

Journalists too are in revolt over coverage of transgender issues, with the publication by The Age of an anonymous piece by the parent of a child in gender transition sparking internal newsroom tensions. The article was later pulled.

Meanwhile international singer Sia has been pilloried for her new film Music, in which a non-autistic girl plays an autistic character. Some critics claim the role should have gone to an actor on the spectrum.

Sia failed to back down, tweeting “fuckity fuck. Why don’t you watch my film before you judge it. FURY”. 

When one autistic actress tweeted about the problems getting roles, Sia fired back “maybe you’re just a bad actor”. It only incited more outrage.

There was also plenty of support for Sia, with one Twitter user pointing out that Dustin Hoffman would have to hand back his Oscar for Rain Man on this basis.

Not to mention Tom Hanks who won an Oscar for playing a gay man in Philadelphia.

It’s called acting.

Peter Fray

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