Ryan Murphy's highly anticipated latest directorial project premiered Friday on Netflix and in select theaters. Based on the 2018 musical of the same name, "The Prom" tells the heart-wrenching story of a 17-year-old teenager who is prohibited from bringing her girlfriend to her high school prom. Why? Because they're both girls.
Starring Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Kerry Washington and Keegan-Michael Key, the musical is set in small-town Indiana. With a fictional plot that easily could have been lifted from real life, it may make some audience members ask: What was "The Prom" inspired by?
Is 'The Prom' based on a true story?
The answer is: Sort of. Chad Beguelin, the musical’s co-writer and lyricist, told NBC News back in 2018 the idea was inspired by producer Jack Viertel, who kept encountering similar stories in news headlines.
“He had seen several instances where, you know, same-sex couples were banned from their prom,” Beguelin said. “The depressing thing is, they keep sort of happening … Every once in a while a few months will go by, and then someone will email us another, you know, high school that decided that no gays or lesbians can come to the prom. You know, it's sad that it still happens.”
For instance in 2017, a Catholic high school in Connecticut barred one student from bringing another girl who was more than just a friend to her prom. A year prior to that, two boys in Louisiana were told at first they couldn't go to prom together because according to the school's regulations, "they didn't allow same sex to go to prom together."
Why is 'The Prom' set in Indiana?
While the plot of "The Prom" wasn't inspired by one specific real-life event, the location was purposefully selected for a very specific reason: Indiana is where Vice President Mike Pence is from.
In 2018, Beguelin extended a personal invitation to Pence, who has a well-documented record of anti-LGBTQ stances, to come see the musical on Broadway for himself. Beguelin said, “I think you really need to come and see ‘The Prom,’ and also, we set it in Indiana because of you.”
“Our show isn't about ostracizing people,” Beguelin explained at the time. “Our show is not about telling people, ‘You are wrong.’ Again, it's about listening and empathy and accepting, and so my invite (to Pence) would just be like, ‘Listen to our show. It's about love.’”
“We get so many people that after the show come up to us and say, ‘You changed my point of view,’” Beguelin said. “There are some people that are like, ‘I was that homophobic parent, and I didn't know what the show is about, and now I've really got to sort of reexamine my point of view.'"
Today, Murphy hopes that people from all walks of life appreciate this new film and its message of acceptance, especially during these troubling times.
"#THEPROM is for anyone who ever felt like an outsider, and for anyone who just wants to be their authentic self - which I think is a universal conceit," he wrote on Instagram, adding, "My greatest Christmas wish is that this movie brings a sense of hope and community to anyone who needs it in these troubling times.”