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Kerry Washington and Ariana DeBose on the importance of seeing yourself represented in movies

December 7, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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Ariana DeBose and Kerry Washington in ‘The Prom’ on Netflix. (Photo by Melissa Gordon/Netflix)

As Billie Jean King famously said, “You have to see it to be it,” and for Ariana DeBose and Kerry Washington, they each wanted to be that for young girls across the country with their performances in The Prom, which premieres on Netflix on December 11. 

Washington and DeBose play mother and daughter in the Netflix film adaptation of the Broadway musical. DeBose is Alyssa Green, a closeted high school cheerleader who is terrified of her mom, the PTA president who cancels prom at the thought of two lesbians attending. 

Tony nominee DeBose saw the musical three times when it was on Broadway, and she was struck by all the young girls in the audiences. 

“I noticed so many young girls and lots of young girls of color actually,” DeBose said during a virtual press conference. “And so when this opportunity came to me, I really thought about it. And I went after it because I know how important it is to see yourself reflected on a screen, because if you can see it, you can believe that you can do it. And I wanted to be a part of telling this story. And also it was the first time I’d ever seen anything close to even potentially my experience on a Broadway stage.”

While Washington admits that her character is more of a model of what not to be, she still thinks it’s important to have art as a reflection and a guiding light for society. 

“We get these moments to look at these characters and say, ‘Oh, I see myself.’ Or ‘I see who I don’t want to be,’ maybe in the case of Mrs. Green,” Washington said. “And we get to get in touch with our humanity and who we are, who we want to be, who we don’t want to be. I think it’s powerful…I do think art has a place in the conversation and because it gets to our hearts, it’s so, so powerful. This story is such a powerful story about acceptance and just the power to create community where you need it. And that when you fight for your own belonging, you create belonging for other people. It’s just such a beautiful, powerful story.”