Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella With Brandy Is a Timeless American Classic

Updated on December 12, 2018
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Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

This is what America actually looks like -- minus the tiaras.
This is what America actually looks like -- minus the tiaras.

Remember Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella starring Brandy?

The movie was a remake of the original 1957 version and was sort of updated to appeal to an audience that was always there and had just been ignored before.

The 1997 version was basically diversity before diversity became confused with tokenism by faux progressives. It was beautiful and wonderful and I don't recall anyone making a big fuss over the race of the actors and actresses. Maybe because I was too young at the time to pay attention to the adults and their endless squabbling.

Also, the internet wasn't as big back then as it is now, so there were fewer people talking about "problematic" things and writing think pieces on whether or not Mickey Mouse was a misogynist.

I say the film is a timeless classic that all Americans can enjoy because it depicts a lot of Americans and not just some Americans.

Brandy always had very sweet eyes.
Brandy always had very sweet eyes.

Keep in mind that for this specific movie, I'm talking about how race was handled, not sexuality. Everyone is pretty much straight in Cinderella, which is not the end of the world (said by someone who's not straight) and actually illustrates the point I'm making: we don't need to remake old classic tales with a more "diverse" cast.

Don't worry. One day we will have a princess who likes other princesses! (In fact, we might already have one.) That doesn't have to be achieved by going back and rewriting old stories, though.

This is a new day. Why not make new tales that depict more people the way this movie did? Why are we taking old European stories and inserting non-European people into them, as if non-European people had no cultures and no stories of their own?

I'm not saying this movie and its diversity was a bad thing. Nor is this article against diversity. This article is against "diversity" masking the tokenism of what some people like to call "fauxgressives." That is, fake progressive people who care more about not looking racist than actually, you know, not being racist.

The wonderful thing about 1997's Cinderella is that there was no tokenism going on. The movie acknowledged a wider audience and gave happiness to an entire generation of children who would have been ignored otherwise (and were for the most part). It's just too bad that this was achieved with yet another European fairy tale. I mean, how many times do we need to tell Cinderella's story? Fifty more? When will we be satisfied?

I'm basically saying that we can do better. And the reality of that -- that we can create even greater things than this, new stories that everyone can share -- is pretty exciting, isn't it?

1997's Cinderella was but one example of what can be achieved when people are treated like people and not tokens or quotas.

And notice that I'm not using the world "inclusion" here. I consider that word highly offensive, as it implies that some people own the world and everyone else is merely being invited to the table. No. Whoopi Goldberg and Brandy and Whitney Houston and all the brown people who participated in this wonderful film were not "included" as if they had come here from some other planet and asked to join in this culture. They were depicted, hired, employed when normally, they would not be.

Because this depiction was allowed, hundreds of little children were given this wonderful fantasy world, where everyone got along and no one seemed to give a crap about race.

It was a lie, but it was a beautiful lie, a dream of what could be, and being a child who spent most of her childhood in California, it seemed real enough on the surface to me. I grew up in the middle of "diversity," surrounded by different races and cultures. I went to school with American kids who looked like Prince Christopher. So to me, seeing this film was like finally seeing the world I had grown up in on-screen, rather than someone else's narrow vision of the world.

One of the greatest things about this film was probably its all-star cast.

Bernadette Peters was unforgettable and hilarious as the stepmother. You loved the giggles she forced out of you and hated her for sneering on poor Cinderella.

Natalie Desselle and Vaenne Cox were also amazing as the two stepsisters. They weren't even really ugly on the outside but they were pitiful on the inside. I believe they were the most sympathetic depiction of the Ugly Stepsisters I've ever seen, as they were more brainwashed by their mother than actually intentionally mean to Cinderella.

The sisters in this version of the tale were goofy, silly people who you would pity, not hate. Goofiness and silliness was a large part of the theme, as the film was largely a comedy in many ways.

The only remotely serious moment was when the stepmother told Cinderella she was common and would always be common. Bernadette Peters hit the nail on the head with that line, and the audience really sympathizes with Brandy, who goes away crying.

"Take it from me, you don't want to be a normal person. Look at me. I am a normal person. Does that tell you anything?"
"Take it from me, you don't want to be a normal person. Look at me. I am a normal person. Does that tell you anything?"

Then of course we had Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) as Lionel. He had great chemistry with the prince, played by Paolo Montalban.

The two of them were pretty funny together, and Jason Alexander perfectly played the Disney-esque buffoonish assistant who is usually short, bald, round and constantly gets hurt.

Paolo Montalban, meanwhile, was handsome, charming, and utterly likeable as Prince Christopher. He was a prince little girls could dream of being with, due in large part to his talented singing and acting.

Whoopi Goldberg and Victor Garber were adorable as the king and queen. Like Lionel and Prince Christopher, they really had chemistry. When you saw them on screen, you really felt like they were this old couple who had been together forever and were very much in love.

Another thing I loved as a child (and still love now) is that none of the actresses were shamed for their hair or forced to change it for the film.

I'm all for actors and actresses changing their appearance for a specific role, but when hair isn't important at all, there's really no reason to enforce European beauty standards.

That Brandy got to have braids and Whoopi Goldberg had locs and Whitney Houston had her big Afro was pretty wonderful and uplifting for little girls across the country, who had to constantly hear how locs and braids were "dirty" and who were shamed and sent home from school for wearing hairstyles completely natural to them.

Lastly (and I hope I haven't missed anyone), Whitney Houston and Brandy were phenomenal as the Fairy Godmother and Cinderella. I grew up with their music, so to see them do a duet together in a Disney film was pretty great.

When you think about it, Brandy was actually the first black Disney princess.

Also, Whitney's "Impossible" reprise at the end of the film was something that gave me the drive to keep going with my writing career whenever I felt like giving up.

I know it sounds cheesy, but I would remember her voice telling me I could go anywhere I wanted to go and do anything I wanted to do. I believed her. I had to believe her because the alternative -- giving up, succumbing to depression and marginalization -- was just too unthinkable to imagine.

Everyone has a right to their dreams and fantasies and aspirations. Everyone has a right to an equal chance to live those dreams. 1997's Cinderella is what our world would look like today if everyone was given that chance.

© 2018 Ash


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