Aside from her spectacular roles, we know Kerry Washington as a fierce advocate for equality and social justice. But in the new Netflix musical The Prom, she’s playing someone with a very different viewpoint: a conservative mother who is unhappy that her teenage daughter, played by Arianna DeBose, has come out as gay. While promoting the movie, Washington imagined how she would react if her own daughter came out to her.
“I’d say, ‘Great! Awesome. What’s for lunch?'” Washington told GLAAD in a video interview, in front of a backdrop of what appears to be artwork by her children, 6-year-old Isabelle Amarachi and 4-year-old Caleb Kelechi. “I would just say, ‘Fantastic, and I’ll give you as much support as I can and offer you extra resources when I’m not able to speak to your lived experience, and let’s just go make this life magic, as we were.’ Depending on the age — or at any age — I’d say, ‘How exciting that you know who you are and let’s go be who you are. How can I help you be who you are in the world, unapologetically and enthusiastically? Let’s go get this.'”
This seems like a pretty good script for any parent to copy down and save for the future.
In the Ryan Murphy musical, which has an insanely star-studded cast, Washington’s Mrs. Greene is the PTA president who has banned another student from attending the prom with her daughter. This presented the Scandal star with a challenge, as she always tries to find compassion for her characters. She eventually realized that, though misguided, Mrs. Greene is like any mother torn between the ideal of unconditional love and the desire to see her child safe in the world.
“You realize she loves her daughter; she just doesn’t have the toolbox yet to love her in the ways that she needs to be loving her,” Washington said. “She’s loving her according to her own expectations and rules, which I think a lot of parents do.”
Washington made the analogy to her own mother’s reaction when Washington told her she wanted to be an actor (although she acknowledges this was a very different situation).
“It was like someone had died,” she recalled. “Like, ‘No, your life is already going to be so hard as a woman, so hard as a Black person. Now you’re going to make this choice where you’re going to starve and struggle for the rest of your life?’ I think that is some of where Mrs. Greene is coming from: ‘I want you to have an easier life. I don’t want people to have another reason to hate you.'”
That attitude is somewhat easier to understand than outright homophobia, but it’s still not OK. Not to give too much of a spoiler, but Washington said Mrs. Greene does find her way to unconditional love in the end.