Why James Corden's 'Gayface' is All Kinds of Wrong
Uh oh, James has just seen the reviews of his performance in The Prom
Netflix is a platform full of creativity. From just a streaming service, they have developed their own studios and produced some fantastic shows and movies that have won awards across the board. Last year, current doyenne of the small screen, uber producer/creator Ryan Murphy, was given a giant deal to bring his brand of quirky, alternative, heartfelt fun exclusively to Netflix. This is the man who brought us Glee, Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story and the striking Pose so hope was high now he was in creative control and given enormous budgets to boot.
Big budget, bigger names
When it was announced that he was directing a Netflix movie musical called The Prom starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Corden, I had high hopes. All three have the proven pipes and if Glee is anything to go by, we were going to be in for a treat. The movie revolves around two gay girls in middle America whose case of being forbidden to go to prom together is taken up by a clique of washed up Broadway stars as a cause celebre.
The stellar cast of The Prom give it their all
I love Murphy’s work, it’s progressive, important and he not only puts LGBTQI+ people front and centre but he does so without falling into the pitfalls of being preachy or unpalatable to the masses. In that respect, this isn’t a review of The Prom. To be fair you can probably tell exactly what you’re going to get if you like any of the divas involved and there's a lot to love about the film.
The problem here is James Corden. More specifically his performance. He puts on the most unabashed shameful display of ‘gayface’ I have seen in years. He ‘camps it up’ playing a gay character in a way that no straight person has any right doing, let alone on screen in a huge budget musical extravaganza.
Not playing it straight
Gayface is so called as it is derived from ‘blackface’ or ‘yellow face’ where in the past white people have dressed up as black or Asian people including painting their faces, affecting accents or just dredging up every stereotype they can muster. Unearthed pictures of celebrities in blackface over recent years, even if they were ill judged pics from decades ago, has called for their ‘cancellation’ from all corners of the globe.
Corden's performance might have benefitted from an exorcism (here in Lesbian Vampire Killers)
These examples are abhorrent so why exactly is it any different to see Corden mugging and hooting like it’s the 1970s any different.?
Of course, I’m not saying that a straight person can’t play a gay character and vice versa. Look at the likes of Robin Williams in The Birdcage where it’s done sensitively and not ridiculously. It’s the wild stereotypes that render a performance like Corden’s more than offensive. It’s like he affects the tropes that gay people have had shouted at them every day when someone wants to do ‘an impression’ of us.
Gay people have a chequered relationship with camp as it is, knowing that they can make themselves vulnerable to mockery just by being who they are. Being an effeminate male is not funny when it results in physical violence and using comedy to deflect such a negative response has been one of the cornerstones of gay culture. It’s why so many gay people feel they have to hide their true selves and yet here on screen is a straight white man lampooning those very character traits that real people struggle with every single day.
It's glitter all the way in The Prom
It’s no secret that Americans have taken Corden into their hearts in a way his native Britain never did and for that I commend him greatly. When he wrote and starred in the disastrous Lesbian Vampire Killers he was already suffering from over-exposure and burgeoning unpopularity. The fact he managed to turn it around, start afresh in America and conquer not only the talk show circuit but also woo the Hollywood elite is a path many have tried and failed to tread, slinking back home with their tail between their legs.
Not so with James Corden and the simple accomplishment that his name comes in the credit’s above Nicole Kidman’s should not go unnoticed. He’s a big star over there and we should be proud of one of our own ‘making it’. Unfortunately, I think that is what’s happened here, due to his charm and talent, Murphy clearly thought his ‘camping it up’ was funny and endearing because, you know, it’s that James Corden from the Late Late Show and he’s cute and camp on that so surely that makes him ripe for the part?
Where this is such a misfire is that, here in Britain especially, we’ve seen all that before with James. If they removed the rose-coloured spectacles they are wearing, what we have here is one of the most appalling examples of gayface/blackface/yellowface in recent times and other than the odd scathing review, this has gone largely unnoticed in the populace which is almost as tragic as the performance itself.