Scroll To Top
Interviews

How Prom Dates leans into coming out, lesbian identity, and chosen family

How 'Prom Dates' leans into coming out, lesbian identity, and Rachel Weisz

Julia Lester and Terry Hu in Prom Dates
Disney/Brett Roedel

Julia Lester and Terry Hu in Prom Dates

Prom Dates stars Julia Lester and Terry Hu and writer, D.J. Mausner, and director, Kim O. Nguyen, chat with Pride about coming out, the word lesbian, friendship, and Rachel Weisz.

TracyEGilchrist

Movies about prom have been around since before Molly Ringwald's Andie fell for the popular guy and designed her dress in Pretty in Pink. But it’s only recently that queer kids have led the narrative in teen flicks, including Blockers and The Prom. The new comedy Prom Dates features a lesbian lead character who is imperfect, messy, and enjoys so many of those John Hughes (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful) movie moments like an uncontrollable house party at a rich kid’s house and run-ins with frat boys and strippers.

The slightly raunchy / gross-out comedy stars High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ queer actor Julia Lester as Hannah, a lesbian whose prom plans get a shake-up when she comes out to her best friend, Jess (Antonia Gentry), and has her first romp with cool girl Angie (Terry Hu), all on the evening before prom. Though Prom Dates includes a coming-out story, unlike early teen movies with queer kids, there’s no anguish or pathos. Hannah admits to having a relatable crush on Rachel Weisz in The Mummy, comes out to Jess, and sets out in search of her first Sapphic interlude.

“When I knew I was going to have a character go on a coming out journey, I kind of wanted to get the coming out part done quickly,” says Prom Dates’ nonbinary writer, D.J. Mausner. “When you're queer or trans, you’re coming out constantly throughout your life. Every time you have to tell someone your pronouns, every time you have somebody of gender, you don't date hit on you, you have to come out again.”

“I wanted to have Hannah come out as a lesbian, specifically to her best friend, because I was very lucky to have a lot of support in my life. I wanted that to be reflected,” Mausner adds.

"Something I think I purposely did in the film is to use the word lesbian and showcase lesbians quite a bit because that's a term that for some reason people at times tend to avoid," Mausner says of Hannah's specific label. "It's different age groups, but they're like, Oh no, I'll say that I'm queer. I'll say that I'm gay. I’m like, There is no shame in being a dyke baby and let’s say that loud and proud!"

Julia Lester and Antonia Gentry in Prom DatesJulia Lester and Antonia Gentry in Prom DatesDisney/Brett Roedel

Prom Dates’ premise involves a pact between Hannah and Jess years earlier to have the best prom ever. Just as the big night approaches, Jess dumps her cheating boyfriend and goes in search of the perfect guy to parade around at prom while Hannah copes with breaking her theater nerd boyfriend’s heart as she steps into her queerness.

“It’s really cool that I get to tell stories that reflect the world that I was lucky to grow up in and the world that I want to see around me,” Lester says. “I love that queer storylines can be positive and lighthearted and fun as well as deep and meaningful.”

Though much of the movie revolves around Jess’s quest to find an impressive new guy to take to prom while a hammered Hannah tests her attraction to various women, their friendship forms the film’s central love story.

“We talked a lot in the beginning about how important our friends are to us. And we’ve talked also about just the depths that your friendships can have. It can be even more impactful or even more devastating at times than a romantic relationship, the ride or dies, the chosen family,” says Prom Dates’ director Kim O. Nguyen.

“One of our leads plays a queer lead, but our other lead also is diverse,” Nguyen says of Jess. “ Queer characters are having a great exploration right now. But I also feel like that’s true also for many diverse characters. One thing that really resonated with me was this whole thing that was kind of centered around this idea of prom, but wanting to feel like you belong,” she adds.

“As somebody who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, that was something I really keenly felt and really probably chased a lot too, even though I didn't realize it at the time," Nguyen says.

Julia Lester and Antonia Gentry in Prom DatesJulia Lester and Antonia Gentry in Prom DatesDisney/Brett Roedel

For Hu, who’s recently played impossibly cool queer characters in Never Have I Ever and The Girls on the Bus, remarks on the evolving role of prom as teens lean into self-expression.

“Historically and traditionally, it’s prom, and the girls dress like this, and the boys dress like whatever, and there's a prom queen. … I understand where all those traditions come from, but I think it’s fun because the times have changed,” Hu says. “It’s a lot more encouraging of expression and also authenticity. And sometimes some people’s authentic self may not even care about prom that much. ... This is not the zenith of your life. It’s not the pinnacle, and you're not going to peak here. It’s just like a party to celebrate with your friends.”

Although it takes Hannah until senior year to fully come out to herself and others, Hannah’s unrealized crushes on certain actresses along the way create hilarious lesbian Easter Eggs throughout the movie. Lester points out Hannah's "Team Bella" poster in her locker, referring to Kristen Stewart's character in the Twilight franchise.

Mausner's homage to nascent crushes on famous women is born out of an experience common to many burgeoning queer kids.

“So many friends of mine that are either lesbians or who are bi have that experience with Rachel Weisz and Brendon Frasier in the Mummy movies, and then with Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino in Spy Kids, just these unbelievably sexy adult women where you’re like, What's happening to me?” Mausner says. “Later in life, you look back and you’re like, Oh, that was a root. That was definitely a queer reference point for me, so I had to include [Weisz].”

“Obviously, Sarah Paulson is referenced in the script,” Mausner adds.

Watch PRIDE's interview with Prom Dates' stars Julia Lester and Terry Hu below.

Watch Pride's interview with Prom Dates' writer, D.J. Mausner, and director, Kim O. Nguyen below.

Advocate Channel - HuluOut / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

author avatar

Tracy E. Gilchrist

Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.

Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.